The Pittsburgh Pirates announced on Friday afternoon that they have signed A.J. Burnett to a one-year deal for $8.5 M. The 37-year-old righty pitched for the Pirates from 2012-13, before signing with the Philadelphia Phillies last year. Both Burnett and the Phillies declined their mutual option for 2015 this off-season.

Burnett made 34 starts for the Phillies and posted a 4.59 ERA and 1.41 WHIP over 213.2 innings. He had 190 strikeouts, but led the National League  with 109 earned runs allowed and 96 walks. Those numbers were well off the 3.41 ERA and 1.23 WHIP he had in 393.1 innings with the Pirates. Burnett fills one of the spots left empty by Francisco Liriano and Edison Volquez, both of whom are free agents, though the Pirates haven’t ruled out re-signing one or both of them yet.

UPDATE 3:48 PM: Ken Rosenthal says that Burnett only wanted to negotiate with the Pirates.

UPDATE 3:51 PM: Thoughts on the move from Tim Williams…

In his two years with the Pirates, Burnett looked like a top of the rotation starter. Then, last year with the Phillies, he looked like a middle of the rotation guy at-best, and a number four starter based on his overall numbers. He had a 4.59 ERA, but his 3.95 xFIP suggested he should be better going forward. A big issue was that his strikeouts were down and his walks were up.

The Pirates might be able to help him again with the walks.  He has just four seasons with a BB% under 9.0 and two of those seasons came in Pittsburgh. A decrease in walks will certainly help him. There was also the issue of a sports hernia, which probably impacted his pitching in 2014. I’m not sure what the situation is with that injury, although Burnett has a conference call with the Pittsburgh media today, so I’m sure there will be some answers. It’s not an injury that should impact the 2015 season. Cole Hamels had off-season surgery on the injury a few years ago, and pitched a full season the following year. So if Burnett ends up needing surgery, it shouldn’t impact him.

At this point, I think Burnett could at least be a mid-rotation starter who could eat 190-200 innings, which is a great value at $8.5 M. The Pirates needed starting pitching this off-season, and Burnett will help them fill a lot of those innings. They still need a top of the rotation starter, but they also have plenty of room in the budget to make that happen. The updated payroll with Burnett has them at $75 M, and that’s not considering the possibility of Ike Davis being traded or non-tendered, which puts things closer to $70 M.

I’ll have more on the Burnett signing later today.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Quite a surprise. Sounds like a good bounce back candidate at that price. It is also nice to get one pitching spot filled early.

  2. Although I like AJ as a competitor and team leader, I have mixed feelings about this signing. He didn’t have a very good 2014, he’s 37, and he’s getting $8.5m. I was hoping we would go after McCarthy, Morrow, etc. who are much younger and have potential to pitch more than just one more season.

  3. I’m not sure why Tim keeps saying we need to add a top of the rotation pitcher. Did we lose one? Liriano stunk until July and none of yinz have even pined for us to resign Volquez. This is a team built around 5 strong starters, not one lone stud. Oh, by the way, Cole has as good a chance of being a true Ace as anyone we could sign out there. Cole, AJ, Worley, Locke and Morton are as good as we could acquire without going into David Price fantasyland scenarios that would probably require breaking up the team to pay for.

    Right now my next target would be a strong lefty middle reliever., then save your money for the inevitable bargain/need you come across.

    • One could argue the biggest thing keeping us from winning the division is that ace level guy. Liriano or McCarthy give us solid front line SP as well as allowing guys like Worley to be back end options. As is, we are asking Worley to be a 3 starter? Doesnt scream division winner to me. Locke should be the 5th man who gets pressured by Kingham mid year.

  4. Among the pitchers who will end up with one year deals (Masterson, Anderson, Marrow) AJ is the surest bet. The contract is good value at that price.

  5. i’d rather have Burnett for this than Masterson, Anderson, Morrow, etc.

    Now go get McCarthy and either Martin or Headley….

    • Yeah, lets go get an overpriced catcher or play who wants to pay more with the Yanks. OR they could go get Masterson and McCarthy and have great depth at SP and still have a reasonable salary level. Once Martin signs, they can then evaluate the catching market via trade and try to upgrade if a deal presents itself. Hate to say it, but Martin signing may make the team worse overall during his contract.

  6. Burnett went from a team with high-quality defense that employs shifts effectively in a ballpark that suppresses hits and runs and an outstanding pitch-framing catcher to a team with terrible defense that does not use shifts in a hitter-friendly ballpark with a catcher who was terrible at pitch-framing… Although AJ was the same pitcher, the results were (not surprisingly) very different.
    AJ should be effective in 2015, and he should be worth far more than the 1.25 WAR the Bucs are paying for.

      • Who cares what he likes? Defensive shifts make the defense more efficient, and they make AJ a seem like a better pitcher. He didn’t get help from defensive shifting in Philly, and he was much less effective.

  7. Wow, pretty shocked to read this headline. Was a little sad how things went down last year, but I will welcome AJ back to the Black and Gold any day. Maybe he can convince Russell to stay and make another run at winning it all together

  8. Now that’s a turn up for the books. Could at least solidify the back end of the rotation. One assumes they’ll be looking to add more starting pitching though?

  9. Wudeydo34 wants to retire as a Pirate – good for him. He just fits in with the team better – hope Ray can fix any faults he picked up with the Phils…

    • I don’t know that he picked up any faults that playing for a winning team with an excellent defense won’t fix. It must have killed him pitching in Philadelphia last year. That team was horrific.

      • yup Defensively the Phillies I think weren’t that good. Also, the Pirates team is looking good as far as contention so that gives AJB a chance to go to playoffs and maybe WS which any pitcher wants.

  10. Didn’t he have the same injury as Morton and pitch through it? If he gets the surgery, wouldn’t that make him miss about a month of the season? Or did he already get it? Whatever the case, I think this is quite a bargain.

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