Pirates narrow focus in wake of Burnett's deal
Right-hander's pact with Phillies removes some uncertainty at Bucs camp
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Two years ago, almost to the day, A.J. Burnett joined the Pirates to give Spring Training a dramatic sendoff.
On Wednesday, Burnett's Pirates tenure ended as reports surfaced that the right-hander had struck a free-agent deal with the Phillies -- getting another Bucs Spring Training off to an eventful start.
One significant difference in the developments: Burnett's arrival, in hindsight, signaled a change in the team's fortunes and culture; his departure is not expected to have the reverse affect.
"I think our pitchers will be going into this season with a lot more confidence. They don't need anybody to hold their hands," said manager Clint Hurdle, who, along with others in Pirate City, was simply glad an uncertainty that had hung over the club for months had been removed.
"I'm glad there is closure for everybody," Hurdle said. "I talked to our guys [at the Pirate City camp, on reporting day for the club's pitchers and catchers]. I reminded them that I want players to be happy, and A.J. made a decision that will be good for him and his family.
"And I talked to A.J. I thanked him for two years of service."
So did club president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington, who said, "We prepared to go on without him. He would've been a bonus for us. I'm glad it's resolved and we can focus on going forward."
The Bucs' rotation still includes veterans Francisco Liriano ($8 million), Charlie Morton (signed recently to a three-year, $21 million extension), Edinson Volquez (signed for $5 million as a free agent) and Wandy Rodriguez (the Pirates are picking up $7.5 million of his $13 million salary). Re-signing Burnett would've made it five -- with Gerrit Cole and All-Star Jeff Locke still to be accounted for.
Burnett signed with the Phillies for one year at $16 million, a very slight cut from the $16.5 million he had made the previous five seasons on the long-term deal struck with the Yankees in 2009.
Huntington declined to address whether having Burnett reach a deal clearly too rich for the Pirates -- who had chosen to not make him even the $14.1 million qualifying offer that now would have them in position to inherit a Philadelphia Draft choice -- made his departure easier to take. A source said the Pirates did make Burnett a $12 million offer.
"We're just glad he found a good situation for him and his family," Huntington said. "We wish him well -- except when he pitches against us."
There could be numerous encounters. The Pirates' preseason schedule includes six games against Philadelphia -- their only games against a National League opponent on the exhibition schedule. During the regular season, the Phillies will be in Pittsburgh for the July 4 weekend, and the Pirates will return the favor with a Sept. 8-11 visit to Citizens Bank Park.
Huntington confirmed that the departure of Burnett will not prompt him to scour the market for a replacement veteran.
"We have a lot of youngsters in camp who now will have a better chance to step up and be noticed," Hurdle said.
The GM, however, did confirm that he continues to explore opportunities to acquire a left-handed-hitting first baseman.
"The situation with Burnett has not impacted us on that front at all," Huntington said. "We simply haven't found the right match."
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.