Pirates agree to terms with pitcher Burnett
Hearing retirement talk from A.J. Burnett is hardly breaking news. The right-hander considered hanging it up after pitching for the Pirates in 2013 and again after spending this past season with the Philadelphia Phillies.
On Friday, Burnett put a new twist on his plans. Burnett will call it a career — after he plays one more season with the Pirates.
“I’m sure I’ve got one more left in me,” Burnett said after signing a one-year, $8.5 million contract to return to Pittsburgh in 2015. “This is where I want to finish my career, playing for this team and for this city. I want to win a ring, and I want to do it in Pittsburgh.”
Burnett became a free agent Nov. 3 when he declined his $12.75 million player option with the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he went 8-18 with a 4.59 ERA last season.
Burnett approached the Pirates about the possibility of returning. General manager Neal Huntington said the deal came together quickly.
“He made it clear he wanted to do everything we could to make this work,” Huntington said. “Obviously, the man left a lot of money on the table to choose to come back to Pittsburgh and take care of unfinished business.”
Huntington said Burnett’s contract does not include a player or club option for 2016.
Burnett, who will turn 38 in January, led the National League with 34 starts but also had the most losses, earned runs (109) and walks (96) allowed. Over the previous two seasons with the Pirates, Burnett went 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA in 61 starts.
“A.J. was really good for us … and on the surface, wasn’t as good for Philadelphia,” Huntington said. “There are some indicators that (make) us think there’s still a good pitcher here who can still win big games and eat innings.”
Burnett pitched all of last season with a hernia injury that required offseason surgery. He expects to be full-go by the start of spring training in mid-February.
Although his fiery nature on the mound made Burnett a fan favorite in Pittsburgh, it also led to a turbulent end of his first stint with the Pirates. Burnett clashed with manager Clint Hurdle when rookie Gerrit Cole was chosen over Burnett to start Game 5 of the 2013 NL Division Series.
A few days ago, Burnett and Hurdle smoothed over any remaining hard feelings during a 30-minute conversation.
“We have a relationship where we both learned a lot about each other,” Burnett said. “I told him if I could do it over again, I’d handle it a little differently with him. He did what’s best for the team. That’s water under the bridge. I’m here to take the ball for him every five days, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The addition of Burnett could impact the Pirates’ attempts to re-sign free agents Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez.
“It makes it tougher to bring both back,” Huntington said. “We still have interest in adding to our club. A.J. gives us another quality starter … but that certainly doesn’t stop us from continuing to look to add other guys, whether it’s in the rotation or bullpen or a position player.”
A 16-year veteran, Burnett could open the season as the Pirates’ No. 2 or 3 pitcher behind Cole. Right-hander Charlie Morton is expected to miss the start of the season as he recovers from hip surgery.
Jeff Locke, Stolmy Pimentel, Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton are candidates to round out the rotation.
“A.J. brings so much energy,” Locke said. “Anytime you have someone around who has that much experience, especially big-game experience, guys kind of cling to him. He brings out the best in everybody.”
Burnett kept the deal quiet from even his closest friends, including Locke.
“I just talked to A.J. yesterday,” Locke said by phone from his offseason home in Florida. “But he didn’t say anything about coming back. What a great surprise! Totally awesome.”