A.J. Burnett Took Less Money to End His Career and Win a Ring in Pittsburgh

After signing a one year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, A.J. Burnett said a lot of things that Pirates fans might have never thought they would hear just a few years ago. He talked about how he wanted to end his career in a place that he liked, and that his one year deal with the Pirates would be his last season. He talked about taking less money in order to allow the team to be better around him. And most importantly?

“I want to win a ring, and I want to win a ring in Pittsburgh,” Burnett said to the Pittsburgh media via conference call this afternoon.

Shortly after Burnett became a free agent, he got in contact with the Pirates about a return. He told Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington that he was interested in returning to the Pirates if Huntington would have him. And he wanted to make sure Huntington knew it wasn’t about the money. That much became clear today when he accepted an $8.5 M deal, which is $4.25 M less than the guaranteed money he turned down last week in Philadelphia.

“It’s about winning to me. It’s about how many I’ve got left,” Burnett said. “And in my mind and my heart, in my family’s minds, I’ve got one left. I want to be able to go out when I want, and I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to go out where I want. There’s no other place I want to finish my career but in that city, with those people, and with this organization and the guys in the locker room.”

Huntington said that the deal came together fairly quickly after Burnett became a free agent.

“We had a very good discussion,” Huntington said. “He made it clear that he wanted to do everything he could to make this work. Obviously the man left a lot of money on the table to come back to Pittsburgh, and take care of unfinished business.”

Burnett took less money because he said he wanted to give Huntington what he needed to add other parts to the team.

“Whatever Neal needs to get this team better, I didn’t want to get in the way of that,” Burnett said.

As for what Huntington could do from here, the team payroll currently sits around $75 M, and that includes Ike Davis, who could be non-tendered or traded, taking the amount closer to $70 M. That gives the Pirates plenty of room to add an additional starter, which they still need. Huntington said that this move rules out bringing back both of their departing pitchers, Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano.

“It makes it tougher to bring both back,” Huntington said. “We still have interest in adding to our club, whether that’s in the rotation, in our bullpen, our position player group, our bench depth. We’d like to impact as many of those segments as we can. A.J. gives us another quality starter to add into our rotation, but that doesn’t prohibit us, or certainly doesn’t stop us from adding other guys.”

As for Burnett’s impact, he’s a much different pitcher now than he was in 2012-13 with the Pirates. He had a 4.59 ERA last year with Philadelphia, although his 3.95 xFIP suggests he was unlucky. However, it wasn’t just misfortune. He had his second worst walk rate since 2004, and saw his strikeouts drop from 2013 to 2014. Returning to the Pirates should help his walk totals. He posted two of the best BB% totals of his career in his two years in Pittsburgh.

The other issue was a sports hernia, which Burnett pitched through all season. He said that the hernia was “grabbing” and that it didn’t show up in every start, but was there most of the season. He had surgery on the hernia on October 3rd, and will start training next week. Burnett said that he was “feeling really good” and should be “full go” by Spring Training. Huntington said that they felt the hernia impacted his numbers some.

“We do feel that the hernia hindered him some,” Huntington said. “We do think there were some other factors, there were some indicators that we still think there’s a good pitcher here that can still win big games for us, that can still eat innings, and that can still put us in position to win every time he takes the ball.”

At any rate, Burnett shouldn’t be expected to be a top of the rotation guy like he was in his previous time with the Pirates. But he should be expected to be a middle of the rotation starter. And don’t rule out Burnett’s love for Pittsburgh playing a factor.

“I want to be in a place where I was really happy. This is just where I belong,” Burnett said of his return. “There’s certain feelings you get. Certain gut feelings you’ve got to go with, and this was a no-brainer for me.”

Huntington also talked about what could be described as the best case scenario in this deal.

“Maybe we’ll get a happy, and healthy, and motivated pitcher to finish his career on a great note, and we’ve got some belief that we can do some things to help him do that.”

If that happens, and if the Pirates use Burnett’s savings to boost the rest of the team, then Burnett might just have a legit shot at that ring in Pittsburgh.

  • I’m getting whiplash. The BMTIB lets him go, because they know he’s washed up, too expensive, can’t offer him a qualifying offer, etc. Now, he returns, and they are great again? He’s older, more beat up, and coming off a terrible season. So he signs for $8.5 million. Who would have given him more? He texted Russell Martin? Who cares? Is Martin going to take less because Burnett is here? If he is, then this is a great signing. I’m guessing though, it will have no bearing.

    • Yeah, he had a terrible season so clearly he is done. Hernia injury doesnt matter because it doesnt fit the narrative and no way a guy 1 year removed from being considered a #2 SP could still be very solid as a 3-4 option but hey! you clearly arent being unfair to this at all.

      • So, he was washed up when they let him go and got no draft pick for him. And now, it was just a hernia and another years wear and tear on an already old body and he’s gold. Good to know.

        • No one said he was washed up. I remember NH saying 12+ million was more than what they wanted to pay, but you gotta show me where anyone said he was washed up. You can revise history, or be realistic. In terms of AJ’s ability to pitch, he is still a solid option for the 3-4th spot in any rotation. Good to know nothing gets in the way of a good narrative.

  • whole lotta love for Liriano here, but very little for Volquez. Why? EV had a great season, and could realistically improve more next year. I’d rather Pgh re-sign EV than FL. EV would cost less, and he’s younger.

  • Doing the right thing and correcting mistakes is never a bad thing even if it’s a year later. Kudo’s to a.j. for stepping up to the plate on this, now let’s see what else neal has in his goody bag before spring training starts. ( anybody else feel shades of the bus in this?)

  • Hard to hate a deal that was initiated by the player, and that player is taking a pay cut. But please, please NH, do not make this the marquee move of the offseason like with EV last year

  • This is the best possible scenario for the Pirates. A great value, a bounce back candidate, and only a 1 year commitment to provide the bridge we needed. Now we have Cole, Burnett, Morton, and Worley as a good core group, with Locke and Cumpton as depth of a #5 if necessary. Its not half bad really. Is it a championship rotation no, but its competitive, and we don’t need a championship rotation by the start of spring training, the start of the season, or the all star break. We don’t even need an ace, the team that wins has the best team with the most clutch performers who are playing at their best in October, and its completely unpredictable. Lester or Price or Shields or Mickey mantle Nolan Ryan, or Jesus Christ won’t win a championship. The best players, who play the best as a team, with a manager who has strong in game management, does the little things well, who are the hottest in October win. And noone can sign that

    • Adding Liriano would be the coup-de-grace. My only concern is that Locke would be your sole left handed starting pitching option, and we just lost a lefty reliever (Justin Wilson) in the trade with the Yankees.

    • One could make an argument that if we had Jesus Christ on our team, we would be serious World Series contenders. With that kind of talent taking the mound, you always have a shot to win and it makes the whole team better. Plus at the end of the season he could turn gatorade into bubbly.

      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzSW0JlMvpw
        “Jesus the big hero from last night came up in the bottom of the ninth down 3 to 0 and hit a bases empty grand slam. We haven’t seen miracles like that since fishes and loaves night”
        Always gets me laughing. Of course, Kevin Walker led the league last year in bases empty grand slams, and so Jesus would have to earn his spot on the roster.

        • I was wondering about Kevin Walker. Didn’t hear his name mentioned once last year. Not since that amazing 2013 season.

  • Monsoon Harvard
    November 14, 2014 9:55 pm

    Glad to have one of my all-time favorite pitchers back with the Pirates. Will always remember all the years that he and Schilling helped me to win so many fantasy league pennants.
    Welcome back to the Bucs, A.J.!

  • In case anyone is wondering, Burnett has a 4.05 FIP when Cervelli is catching.

    • PiratesForever
      November 14, 2014 9:49 pm

      How many games did Cervelli catch Burnett? Probably not a lot because Burnetts last season with the Yankees was in 2011 so things have changed.

      • 29 games, about a full season. They were both there from 09-’11

        • Considering how awful of a pitcher Burnett was during those years, that’s actually a fairly promising statistic

        • This is a bit off topic but you seem to find metrics fairly quickly.. any concern about cervelli’s arm? The yankee radio guy was saying the yanks always struggle with base runners so I was just wondering if it was more on the pitchers and he’d approach like a 35ish% rate with the bucs focus..

        • PiratesForever
          November 15, 2014 9:28 am

          Hopefully something has changed between them two. A.J. has been better with us than any other team.

  • If he loved playing in Pittsburgh, why did he leave in the first place?

    I’d rather have EV and Frankie. Gonna be hard to root for the turncoat.

    • Paul Krzywicki
      November 14, 2014 9:20 pm

      Lee, sometimes pride/temper can get the best of you. I have made some decisions I have lived to regret. I think AJ is trying to right a wrong, IMO.

    • They got Burnett for less than what Volquez would cost. I mean of course you would want both of them back, but sometimes that can’t happen. I feel like in a neutral setting, Burnett is the better pitcher than Volquez. They still may bring one of the two back. I also like the flexibility the one year deal allows, since most other pitchers require multi years and we only need high quality fillers til Taillon, Kingham, Sampson, Glasnow, etc get there.

      • I think Burnett was a better pitcher than Volquez, but not anymore. AJ did not pitch all that great last year and is trying to come back from a sports hernia. EV pitch great last season except for the playoff game. I see Burnett close to a #4 or 5 pitcher than people here wanting #2-3 pitcher.

        • Fun fact, AJ Burnetts FIP was actually lower than Edinson Volquez’s last year, 4.14 to 4.15. I know they’re extremely close but just saying Volquez could have been lucky, while Burnett was very unlucky. That suggests that Burnett should pitch much better than what he did in Philly

          • I don’t have the patience to calculate Edinson’s xFIP in the 2nd half of 2014, but given the rest of his peripherals were close to CY calibre, I’d venture a guess that if Eddie can be the pitcher he was in 2nd half of 2014 throughout 2015, he’d be a terrific value at $10mill.

            Then again, he could fall on his face because he’s Edinson Volquez…

            • One thing I find interesting about this Volquez vs Burnett discussion is that some people are being down on Burnett for a poor year on a different team, despite being dominant the previous years in Pittsburgh, while Volquez was very poor basically every year but one(like you alluded to) prior to last year and buy into the fact that the Pirates coaching and shifts helped him. If this is the case, shouldn’t Burnett’s last season be looked at as a fluke and his Pittsburgh time the more likely outcome?

  • If Burnett could help get Martin back to the ‘burgh…wow. Could you imagine if we could get Martin, Burnett, and Liriano back and Marte and Polanco continue to progress?!

  • I like it. Best case, we get an excellent pitcher at a bargain price. There is a very good chance that we will at least get a serviceable pitcher who will usually give us a chance to win. And worst case, he at least holds down the fort until Taillon or Kingham is ready.

    • Paul Krzywicki
      November 14, 2014 8:26 pm

      It will be interesting to see what NH does next. Wonder if AJ has any impact on the Martin talks? I doubt it because money talks and AJ already made his and will never have to worry about $$$. We need a second lefty in the pen (andrew miller?), UTIF (Barmes?) and another starter (McCarthy, Morrow, Anderson?). that would make for an interesting offseason, needless to say.

      • It won’t hurt. If anything maybe it gives us an extra 4-5million we can offer russ, and maybe him coming back makes him willing to take a little less…that combo could possibly work. I personally think without russ there is no ring in 2015. With him, we have a reasonable shot to at least get to play for the pennant.

  • PiratesForever
    November 14, 2014 6:41 pm

    I think this is a good move considering that we got him a little cheap but, we should probably get a Brandon McCarthy or Brett Anderson. Plus a decent first baseman.

    • we need a GOOD first baseman, not a decent one

      • Could we trade Pedro and Ike and a top twenty prospect for Brandon Belt?

        • I brought up a belt acquisition. . It didn’t sound like frisco will likely trade him this summer.. posey likely to remain behind the plate at least 50%

          • I mean that would still work in this scenario. Take either Pedro or Ike, whichever they like more and they will be the 1st base majority of the platoon. Then Posey can play first base the rest of the time, or catch. Both guys we would give them also have position flexibility, Pedro at third and Davis in the outfield. And an above average prospect could seal it

      • PiratesForever
        November 15, 2014 9:30 am

        If we go get a top of the rotation start which I hope we do we probably can’t afford a good first baseman. I hope we give Lambo another try, he can tear the cover off the ball.

  • It’s early but so far I’m loving this off-season

  • he said on The Fan (gah i can’t believe i was listening to The Fan) that he was probably going to send a little text to Mr. Martin. We’ll see what happens.

    McCarthy or Liriano, plus Headley or Martin, and things start to look preeeettty fun.

    cole/mccarthy/burnett/worley/morton (maybe locke could find his niche and get a few mph onto his FB in the bullpen taking over for Wilson?)

    just imagine if Polanco takes a step forward!

    if Martin comes instead of… say… headley, the bench will need a good utility guy so that they don’t have Jayson Nixes coming in as the utility guy.

    Are there any decent Snider equivalents out there who play in the infield? trade snider for… like… a s***tier version of Jay Hay or Zobrist.

  • I’m very happy #STFD is back in black! Now give Liriano his money and this off-season will be a success no matter what else happens.

  • Cole/liriano/tross/burnett/worley

    • Who is tross?

      • Tyson ross from dego.. I feel he is the top trade target in the game on the mound. . I would personally give up marte to get him.. probably too much

        • I like Ross, but not for Marte when Pirates have budget for stud FA SP. I’d rather they just keep Liriano.

        • They have internal options who can potentially produce at his level pitching, but none who can match Marte. Also Ross has only started for one whole season so he doesn’t have the track record Marte has, despite Marte being younger. Also, Marte is controlled longer.

          • Well.. at the all star break marte didn’t have much of a track record.. and I personally don’t feel any of our internal options will produce near the level of ross.. and ross doesn’t prohibit finding another high dollar free agent pitcher.. finding someone to play rf is fairly cheap

            • At the all star break, Marte was still coming off a 5.5 WAR season as a 24 year old, Tyson Ross last year has a career WAR of 3.0, and hes already 27. Now why would you trade away someone who has posted back to back above 5 WAR seasons and is signed to a team friendly deal for a guy with 3 years less control, is older, and has only been a starter one year? At our organizations strongest position of depth in the upper levels nonetheless.

              • Elite piching wins in the playoffs… not a bunch of #2 / #3 guys.. I think tross is on his way to bring a top 5 pitcher in the game.. I think the fact that a young cost controlled beast of a pitcher is available is a beautiful thing and I want one.. I would definitely give up one of our three outfielders to get one.. I think marte is our 3rd best of we have.. so I picked him.. I believe in polanco.. I believe in snider.. if one fails, you can win with a weak 3rd of…

                • You are saying you would trade McCutchen for Ross?

                  • Of course not.. cutch is the best leader/clubhouse guy in the game who does everything right.. marte is a knucklehead

                    • “I would definitely give up one of our three outfielders to get one” – you. What else could that possibly imply?

                    • It implies that marte is one of three stud outfielders we have.. having three stud outfielders is redundant and a waist of value to park one in rf at pnc..

                    • I’m not actually trying to say we should trade them straight up.. if marte has much more value then ross a prospect could easily even the value though.. I don’t know enough to identify a fair trade though.. I don’t believe in our rotation at all for the next three years and marte is our most valued trade piece. .

                    • Stargell_Stars
                      November 15, 2014 9:04 am

                      Ahhh, so finally you laid your cards on the table and stated the real reason, which is that you don’t like Marte. Marte can play on my team anyday! You keep Ross.

                    • Lol.. it’s actually nothing against marte.. I just prefer cutch & Polanco and I like snider in rf.. so I feel marte is expendable. . I think our rotation is a huge weakness and lacks a front end guy.. cole makes for a great #2.. I prefer filling the void thru trade and ross is the guy I would target.. I don’t see it as marte vs ross.. if I recall there was a lot of discussion about trading outfielders once they started to hit the majors a couple of years ago.. I just still believe that’s the way to go.. perhaps snider gets it done but I don’t believe so..

                    • Stargell_Stars
                      November 16, 2014 1:15 am

                      OK, that’s a well written reply. I have no faith in Snider, my outfield would be Cutch, Polanco and Marte with Snider expendable.

                    • Snider also has little value thru trade.. if someone is suggesting to improve the team thru trade, which I am, the player being proposed should actually have some real value.. the only nonpitchers that I see with real value are the three outfielders and jhay.. I think without including one of those four players the player we’re getting back will be marginal.. I can’t create a 3war bucco that is also expendable

                • Rickster- elite pitching does win, but not elite pitchers. You need everyone at their best in October, and even the best pitchers can be worn out or just in a slump at that time of the year, as evident from kershaw this year. A team of #2’s and 3’s who are pitching their best in October is way better than one ace who may falter and you are screwed. I’d rather have options

              • Dude, no Marte for Ross. No…..

              • I contend that war values for pitchers are far from being reliable for use in any value comparison to hitters. . However great it is to copy war values from fangraphs.. the fact that they’re the best single statistic we have as fans seems to have created a dependency on them, even when most folks have no idea what it even is… I also find it kinda funny that you’re saying pitching is our strongest position organizationally when it is unanimously concidered the biggest position of need.. lol

                • Upper levels, you know, where there’s Taillon, Kingham, and Sampson. Three MLB caliber starters in AAA right now. Don’t you agree that makes starting in the upper levels strong, especially with Glasnow in AA this year? Starting pitching is only a need this year because none of those guys are considered ready to start the year

                  • I do think we have a lot of potential in the upper levels, I just think we’ll be lucky to get a #3 and late innings guy from them… three years ago we had cole/taillon/heredia and we ended up with one #2.. we need to acquire a top of rotation type guy to really consider ourselves contenders.. marte is a type of player/contract that could bring us one.. maybe Polanco can as well, I don’t feel he would.

                    • Heredia was never above A ball, he hasn’t been in the “upper levels”. Taillon, Kingham and Sampson have all pitched in AAA and have had some good starts, some smaller sample sizes than others but they’re pretty much all 3 gonna get a taste of the big leagues, Taillon and Kingham probably this year. And Taillon could be a #2, Kingham will probably be a #3, and Ross is a #2, not a big enough difference to give up a top of the line position player.

                    • There’s a huge difference between could be #2 and is a #2

                    • Yes, and you still don’t know if Ross even is a number 2, he’s only started one full season. Go with the known commodity.

            • Your personal feelings really aren’t relevant

              • They seem to be. You responded to them

                • Rickster, your wanting to trade Marte is extremely ill-informed. Because he’s a “knucklehead”?! Seriously?! The guy has carried us during crucial parts of each of the last two seasons, and was on fire the second half of last year. We have the money to sign a nice FA pitcher, why weaken your team while you’re doing it.

                  • You’re obviously not reading my comments correctly. . I’m not suggesting we unload marte at the first good offer.. it’s much more about prefering us to have elite pitching and not three elite outfielders. . Ross does not prohibit an additional free agent sign..

          • He didn’t say it was a good trade or that it made sense, just that he would do it. Lets be glad he can;t

        • You’re joking, right? Give up a young OF, signed through 2021, who had one of the top OPS figures in baseball after the All Star break?

          Ross appears to be a good pitcher but he has done it for one full year. Prior to 2014, his MLB career consisted of a 1.40 WHIP, a 4.34 ERA, and a 9-26 record – while pitching in two good pitcher’s parks. Ross is older than Marte also.

          • Not at all.. I suppose I could have suggested a package of pedro/ike/tabata and a c level prospect. . You know, package all the unwanted goods for something of value

  • Use the Martin money and Liriano money to add Lester. Could you imagine? Lester, Cole, and Burnett? Haha. Not realistic but it would be awesome.