A.J. Burnett was a polarizing figure on the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates during his two-year tenure with the team, but there’s a chance the firebrand veteran could soon again find himself toeing the mound at PNC Park.
That’s because, according to NJ.com writer Matt Lombardo, the Philadelphia Phillies are 8.5 games out of first place in the National League East and are primed to be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline instead of buyers.
To thicken the plot, the Pirates are one of only nine teams that Burnett would accept a trade to, according to Lombardo. But that doesn’t mean the team would get him at a bargain. Lombardo says:
Burnett, 5-7 with a 3.89 ERA has drawn interest from the Pittsburgh Pirates but the caveat is any team that acquires Burnett will likely have him for the next two seasons, as he is owed $8M for the rest of this season and can exercise a $7.5M player option for 2015. The Phillies could pick up some of that tab if they do decide to trade him.
Pirates fans remember the solid work Burnett put in for the team during his stint in Pittsburgh. He anchored a rotation that was one of the best in baseball last season, a rotation that propelled the team to its first winning season, first playoff appearance and first playoff victory in 21 years.
Burnett pitched a total of 393 innings over those two seasons, compiling 389 strikeouts and 129 walks in the process. His earned run averages of 3.51 in 2012 and 3.30 in 2013 were more than respectable for a man in his late 30s.
However, Pirates fans also remember his attitude, for better or worse.
Fans loved the fire and passion Burnett brought to every game and every pitch. But they also remember his jawing at teammates and management, most notably after getting pulled in favor of Gerrit Cole before Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
They also remember Burnett’s statement to local radio station 93.7 The Fan in which he said he’d either re-sign with the Pirates or retire. The fanbase was understandably jilted when Burnett signed a one-year, $15 million contract with the Phillies in February.
The question remains as to whether Pirates fans want Burnett back in a black and gold uniform.
Injuries and inconsistencies have plagued the starting rotation this year, although minor league pitchers like Vance Worley, Jeff Locke and Brandon Cumpton have filled in admirably in the interim.
Notwithstanding, do fans really want youth and inexperience taking the mound in the middle of what’s sure to be a compelling and close playoff race this summer? Would Burnett’s veteran presence stabilize a rotation that hasn’t been able to recapture the magic that made the 2013 Pirates such a special team?
A previous Bleacher Report article predicted that the Pirates need better starting pitching to make the playoffs. The team has gotten that better pitching in the form of Locke, Cumpton and Worley in the last several weeks. But how long will that last?
On the other hand, Burnett currently owns a 3.89 ERA with the Phillies and hasn’t shown the same productivity as he did with the Pirates.
It’s a question that has many opinions and angles: Should the Pirates bring back Burnett?
For one, Zach Morrison of Rant Sports says no:
If Burnett were to return to the Pirates, I would love it and hate it at the same time. While I do give a lot of credit to him for turning the Pirates’ misfortunes around and making baseball in Pittsburgh relevant again, I don’t think I could deal with his antics and the persona that is A.J. Burnett.
If his antics and persona translate into more wins for a team that desperately needs them, I’m all in favor of bringing Burnett back to the Steel City. But the question remains as to how effective the 37-year-old Burnett can be, or if general manager Neal Huntington wants to pay the price to bring him back.
It’s a question Huntington will have to answer by July 31.