Originally posted on Raise the Jolly Roger!  |  Last updated 11/4/13
Qualifying offers were due on Monday, and the big news of the day was the Pirates’ choice NOT to extend one to A.J. Burnett. If you weren’t aware, the qualifying offer is a $14 million, one year contract teams can offer to certain players set to leave as free agents. If the player declines and signs with another team, the first team would acquire the second team’s first round draft pick (unless that is a top-1o pick, in which case they get the team’s next pick). Basically, it’s a decent reward for teams set to lose good players to free agency, but can be tricky when someone’s value appears to be right around that $14M number. Burnett, of course, is a very interesting case. He’s publicly stated that he’s choosing between the Pirates – no other teams – and retirement. If that’s the absolute truth, this news is probably irrelevant. The Pirates wouldn’t get the draft pick if A.J. had turned down the offer and retired – they’d only get it if he signed elsewhere. There definitely seems to be an overwhelming sense of trust towards Burnett’s statement by the Pirates and fans. I believe those are his intentions, but you can never be 100% sure. People change their minds, especially when large sums of money are involved. What if Baltimore or Washington – both located near his Maryland home – come in with a great offer? The Pirates would miss out on a free draft pick in that situation – and that’s not something to be scoffed at. Ask the Cardinals and Michael Wacha, who was acquired with one of those picks and prevented the Bucs from advancing to the NLCS at home. So, not offering him the $14M is a risk, but probably not a huge risk in that regard if you really do trust he’s choosing between Pittsburgh and retirement. The other risk is the actual valuation. Does this mean the Pirates aren’t willing to pay Burnett $14M? I kind of assumed they’d pay him that much or a bit more – and while they still could – this may be an indication they want to shoot lower. Burnett is 36, has had a few injury problems, sucked in his playoff start, and rubbed some people the wrong way late in the year.  Despite all that, I don’t really see how you can value him lower than the QO. Sure, that’s going to be a lot for the Pirates to pay one player, but their budget is going to increase – possibly close to the $100M mark – and Burnett is legitimately worth it. In addition to his status as an emotional veteran leader and a stabilizing force in the rotation, he delivered a 3.30 ERA last year, backed up by an even better 2.80 FIP and 2.92 xFIP (it wasn’t a “lucky” season, in fact it was a bit unlucky by those metrics). He led the National League in strikeout rate.  Despite his age, he has enough left on his fastball to set up a wicked curveball, and he has benefited from the Pirates’ improved defense with a ton of ground balls. He led the National League in ground ball rate, too. Strikeouts and ground balls are a pretty good (and sustainable) combination. Fangraphs pegs Burnett’s season at 3.0 WAR, and a decent rough estimate for 1 WAR on the free agent market is $5M. That puts his 2013 at a $15M value, and he missed some time with an injury. Also consider that the FA market will be inflated this year with additional TV money coming in to every team, and we almost always seem to be amazed at the money mediocre-to-decent starting pitchers end up with. Now, the other side of this argument – and possibly a very valid one – is that Burnett has made a ton of money over the years and a few extra million here or there isn’t going to sway him one way or the other, if he truly is deciding between retirement and Pittsburgh. If that theory holds and he ends up with the Bucs at a cheaper price, then that’s a big win for Neal Huntington and company. But if he retires (and could have been swayed by more $…which he almost certainly wouldn’t admit, but could be the case) or does the unthinkable and signs elsewhere, they’ll be making a significant mistake by failing to offer $14 million. With some extra money to spend, a fairly weak free agent market, and only a few other holes to address, I would have preferred avoiding that risk. Other news and notes: Francisco Liriano won the NL Comeback Player of the Year award, as well as the Players Choice Comeback Player of the Year award. He also won the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year award a few weeks ago. How many of these awards are there? Andrew McCutchen won the NL Players Choice Most Outstanding Player award for the second straight season. MLBTR breaks down the Pirates’ arb-eligible players, with salary projections. 
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