Scrolling through Twitter around 3:30 this afternoon, I started seeing a bunch of tweets about AJ Burnett. I had to do a triple take to grasp what I was reading: Burnett was again a Pittsburgh Pirate.
My initial reaction went something like this in real-time: “Huh? No, that can’t be right. Wait. What?! Really? Why? Oh no, they must’ve given him like $14 million if he came here over Philly! He didn’t pitch that great last year. Why do the Pirates ruin hopes and dreams?!?”
Then I actually thought about it and quickly came around to liking the move, for several reasons.
1. The Pirates didn’t give him $14 million, they gave him $8.5 million for one year. He left $4.25 million on the table in Philadelphia because he wanted to come to a winning team. So he came to the Pirates (that is the most surreal paragraph I’ve ever typed. Who would’ve thunk at the end of 2010 that we’d be here?!)
2. The starting rotation right now is basically Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley, Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, and ??? There’s no word of any movement between the Bucs and Edinson Volquez or Francisco Liriano. My guess is that both are gone. So I’d say prayers for a magic healing balm for Charlie Morton and Jameson Taillon are in order, since it seems neither will be ready for the start of the season. Burnett is no longer an ace, but he can be a decent #3 starter. The rotation looks better now than it did this morning.
3. AJ didn’t have great numbers last year. But he pitched with a hernia for most of the season, which must have affected his performance. He also played for the Phillies last year and they were absolutely dreadful. The Phillies also don’t employ the defensive shifts that the Pirates do, nor is their ballpark as pitcher-friendly as PNC Park.
4. Burnett doesn’t need to be an ace to be valuable to this team. He can eat innings and maybe occasionally have a great outing, and that’s all he really needs to do. If he can get the team through six innings each time out, he’ll be an asset to the team.
5. I think it’s a safe assumption to say that Russell Martin will not be a Pirate next year. Like Martin, Burnett brings a tough guy attitude that people love. I certainly wouldn’t have signed Burnett for that sole reason, but it’s nice to have a guy like that in the clubhouse and I’m sure the Pirates’ players are excited to have him back.
All in all, I think this is a pretty decent deal for the Bucs. If it doesn’t pan out, it’s only for a year. Not a terribly risky move. And if he outperforms expectations? Well, then the Pirates just got a whole hell of a lot better.
Welcome back, AJ. See you in April.