Bucs know market doesn't favor them for A.J.
If Burnett opts against retirement, free agent could make much more elsewhere
Seven and a half weeks after throwing his last pitch, A.J. Burnett still hasn't decided if he'll throw another. But in continuing to contemplate retirement, if he has begun to listen to more than just his family -- to what the market is telling him -- his next pitch would likely have to come somewhere other than Pittsburgh.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington still has not heard Burnett's decision on whether he intends to continue his career, itself a considerable bottleneck two weeks before the Winter Meetings.
However, Huntington on Monday told MLB.com that if the developing market for starting pitching turns his head, Burnett will also have to turn away from his Bucs-or-nothing stance.
"The unfortunate reality of the market is, if he's into that, he's gonna pitch somewhere else," Huntington said. "We've got funds we would gladly allocate to A.J. If he or others want a market-value deal, they'll sign elsewhere. It's not just Pittsburgh; there are other markets where different resources must be used as effectively as possible.
"There is money available, but the question is how do we build around A.J.? We've got some other soft spots to address, and where do we go there with the money that A.J. may ultimately cost us?"
Interestingly, without addressing details, Huntington would not rule out the possibility of Burnett joining the Pirates in midseason. Such an arrangement would afford him the increased family time he seeks, and a prorated share of a market-value contract would make him affordable.
"We don't comment on specifics of negotiations," Huntington said. "Our focus is on trying to get A.J. to Spring Training, and if that isn't the case, we would look at where we can go next as an organization."
In a still-young offseason market, the bell that most resonates with Burnett was struck Sunday, with the Dodgers' reported signing of Dan Haren to a one-year, $10 million deal.
With the Nationals last season, Haren went 10-14 in 30 starts, with a career-high ERA (4.67) in 169 2/3 innings.
Burnett was 10-11 in 30 starts, with a career-low matching ERA (3.30) in 191 innings. Burnett is three years older, at 36 (he turns 37 in January), a fact mitigated by steady improvement each of his last four seasons, and by the righty leading NL starters last season with 9.85 strikeouts per nine innings.
At any rate, the age factor has also already been covered by the market: Tim Hudson, 38, and coming off a season curtailed by an ankle injury, signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the Giants.
Burnett and the Pirates would approach negotiating a 2014 deal from different perspectives. The pitcher's starting point is the $16.5 million he earned last season. But the team's base is $8 million (the balance was paid by the Yankees). Clearly, the Pirates won't go to eight figures for any one player, which would take an inordinate bite out of their payroll even if it reaches a record $90 million.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.