Last week the Pirates officially said goodbye to AJ Burnett when he signed a one year 16 million dollar deal with the Phillies. I was having a conversation with Matt (the creator of this fine blog) the other day about this development and we were wondering how Pirates fans should feel about this. For long time Pirates fans, it's easy to go with the knee jerk "same old cheap Pirates" response. And, when you think about how little the Pirates have done so far this offseason, it's hard to think that they didn't have the money to bring Burnett back. However, after reading Neil Huntington's comments about not making a qualifying offer to Burnett, fans crying "cheap" might be being a little short sighted. After all, the Pirates had more than one objective this offseason. Trying to make right field and first base upgrades were also priorities. And while attempts to sign players like Marlon Byrd, James Loney, and Josh Johnson have been unsuccessful, offers were still made by the Pirates and more potential moves may still be in the works. Like it or not, the Pirates are not operating with an unlimited payroll, and committing 14 plus million to Burnett may not have allowed the Pirates the flexibility to make other moves. Despite all this, the Pirates reportedly still made a one year 12 million dollar offer. A fair, but perhaps low, offer. None the less, an offer was made.
So, should we turn our frustrations to AJ himself? He is the one who said he would either return to the Pirates or retire. He forgot to mention any financial demands that would be needed to be met to make his return possible. There's no doubt that Burnett never should have made such a bold statement, but it's not hard to understand why he would take the best offer for himself. What is hard to understand is why he would take a deal from a team like the Phillies who, as Matt pointed out in his post the other day, are not considered to be playoff contenders this year. It certainly seems like it was just all about the money for Burnett, which makes it look as if he turned his back on the Bucs. Because of this, it's fair for Pirates fans to be disappointed that AJ will not be back. Burnett's departure definitely leaves a hole in the rotation, but the loss shouldn't be seen as disastrous by any stretch. Yes, he gave us two excellent seasons of work, and was seen as a team leader. But personally, I feel like the leadership factor has been largely overblown. For example, so much of what he was given credit for was mentoring the younger pitchers on the staff. His two pupils were James McDonald in 2012 and Jeff Locke last season. Both seemed to thrive under his perceived guidance, but their success only lasted for half a season. Are we to believe that both simply stopped listening to him in the second half? It's just too hard to tangibly measure the affect of his leadership, and thus, I don't think Bucco fans should sweat losing that aspect of his presence. What we should miss is the 4.0 WAR he posted last season, and also the opportunity to see more free shirt giveaways like this.
But, alas, we now have to move on whether we like it or not. The good news is the Pirates will have Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton all at the start of the season this year. And hopefully, Wandy Rodriguez will also be ready to go by opening day. While it's true that there are some questions about the 5th spot in the rotation, fans should be excited about the possibility of getting a potential boost from Jameson Taillon at some point this summer. In the end, it's always hard to lose a player the caliber of Burnett, but unlike years past, I think the Pirates are in a better position to move forward then they have been in some time. So, I hope AJ enjoys his money because I think the Pirates will more likely be enjoying the success this season.