Monday’s 5 PM deadline to issue qualifying offers to pending free agents passed without an offer being made to Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett.
Pittsburgh has a number of veteran players set to hit free agency this winter, with Burnett chief among them. Burnett has pitched in each of the last two seasons with the Pirates, helping the team make its first real strides toward becoming a competitive club while compiling a 26-21 record in 61 starts with a 3.41 ERA.
Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, also free agents to be, were not eligible to receive qualifying offers from the Pirates due to their short tenures with the club.
The qualifying offer mechanism offers clubs a way to receive something besides a handshake and a thank you for their departing free agents. Had the Pirates extended Burnett the standard $14.1 million qualifying offer (based on an average of the top 125 MLB salaries), he would have had seven days to accept the offer or move on to another club.
Clubs which sign players that have turned down previous QO’s will lose their first round pick, and losing clubs receive compensatory picks at the end of the first round of next year’s draft.
It’s unlike the Pirates, a very cost-conscious club, to make any move that might leave them vulnerable in a situation such as the MLB draft. The Pirates value the draft very highly, as any small market club with limited revenue streams should. Leaving the door open for Burnett to move on without any sort of draft compensation is indeed out of character.
However, they may feel safe in Burnett’s assurances that it’s Buccos or bust.
Burnett, speaking to local radio following the team’s NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, publicly made assurances that, if he returns in 2014 at all, it would be with the Pirates. Burnett is 36 and earned a pair of big-money contracts in his MLB career.
It is likely with private assurances that the Pirates felt comfortable allowing the deadline to pass.
Should the Pirates bring Burnett back into the fold, it will be interesting to see the details of his contract. Burnett was 35 when the Pirates acquired him from the New York Yankees during the 2011 offseason.
He’ll be 37 heading into the 2014 season, and New York won’t be picking up nearly 60 percent of the deal this time.
Pittsburgh will have more money this winter than they’re accustomed to. Increased attendance, a playoff run and the windfall of record-breaking RSN television deals being plugged straight into revenue sharing means Burnett, even at 37 and $14.1 million, would be a much more feasible option for the Pirates than even as recently as last offseason.
The Pirates were comfortable letting Burnett hold the cards in this matter, a fine gesture to be made to a veteran who has helped reinvigorate a franchise and a fanbase.
If Burnett is willing, the Pirates ought to have the money to make one more year happen.
I’m on twitter – @Slew_James