MLB: Seattle Mariners at Pittsburgh Pirates

If there is one consistent thread running through the long, storied, history of Getting Blanked, it is a befuddled appreciation of A.J. Burnett. Always one of the most entertaining pitchers in the game, Burnett is now something of a marvel. Injury-prone strikeout artist dogged by overrated and “.500 pitcher” claims for years, Burnett figured it out for a while. His walk year with the Blue Jays was tremendous, working on short rest when needed (or “needed”) and putting up a career year. Then he played a central role for the World Champion Yankees in 2009.

Then he was bad (so bad) for a year. Then he was a Pirate. And he was born again! Two years in Pittsburgh, one good and one very good, leading the Pirates back to the playoffs for first time in a generation.

Now he’s a free agent. He’s also 37-years old and contemplating retirement. The Pirates want him and, frankly, need him if they hope to return to the postseason again before 2033, at which time Andrew McCutchen will be the disgraced all-time home run champ if history teaches us anything.

But with this need and a waning desire to play in more places than just Pittsburgh and near his Maryland home, Burnett gets to be choosy. Which means the Pirates need to go on something of an offensive.

Not really an offensive as much as a passive-aggressive offensive. The Pirates team president Frank Coonelly said the team “turned the page” and expects to open Spring Training without him. Not that they don’t want him, but the Buccos have things to do and waiting by the phone for Allan James Burnett ain’t on the list.

Retirement is a peculiar hammer to wield, as Darren Oliver of the Blue Jays learned last winter. He threatened retirement if the Jays didn’t increase the amount of his contract, the final year of a two-year contract the two sides reached after the 2011 season. Oliver was great in his first year as a Blue Jay and wanted a little extra for his trouble in 2013. The Jays didn’t relent, Darren Oliver played out his final year and is now happily retired to Texas.

Oliver tried to sneak in a few extra mil from Toronto but the Burnett situation is slightly different. He doesn’t have a contract so he might well be shooting stuffed zombies on his back 40 right now with baseball serving as little more than a memory. The grueling workouts and heavy travel of a 162 game, six month long season (plus Spring Training and Grapefruit League) gets less and less appealing with each passing year.

But Burnett is sitting on a gold mine – he could easily earn another multi-year deal after two great seasons in Pittsburgh. There is always the chance he jumps ship and joins the Orioles, his nominal hometown team that is also very much in need of a starting pitcher (provided he can pass their rigorous physical examinations).

The Pirates downplay their interest while Burnett says nothing. Once we don our tinfoil hat, all these actions and inactions take on special meaning. Burnett’s tight-lipped approach to the offseason makes him tough to read. Maybe he’ll opt for a Roy Oswalt-style midseason return to the game? Considering the winter long tongue bath by the Pirates organization, they’d surely welcome him with open arms. As they should, because he’s awesome.

Big Read of the Day

Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game

Not really an “important” read but familiarizing yourself with the names on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list is surely in the best interests of any baseball fan.

Byron Buxton leads the way, the 20-year old Twins outfielder topping the list after putting his impressive collection of tools on display at two different levels of A-ball in his first full year as a pro.

Some of the names at the top of the list might ring a bell with casual fans, as Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox slots in second on the list, mere months after winning a World Series ring for his role with the champs from Boston.

If you’re a fan of a bad team, dig into this list with hope in your heart. Maybe one of these teenagers will save your moribund franchise from years of mismanagement and fan apathy! It’s either that or cheering for a meteor strike, choose wisely!

Hometown Haircut

Jon Lester came out with some telling comments regarding his future in Boston yesterday. While some speculated a contract extension for Lester would cost a lot more in the wake of Clayton Kershaw‘s record-setting deal, Lester made it clear he is nothing if not self aware.

It is a tough balancing act, between wanting to stay in a place you know and are comfortable versus taking money out of your own pocket. Lester’s quotes suggest a man who only wants to be treated fairly, something the Red Sox can surely accommodate.

Lester’s honesty is admirable, especially when he makes fan-servicing comments like “I want to be here until they have to rip this jersey off my back.” That makes for good copy and is a fine way to rally the troops, but taking a steep discount to stay in Boston shouldn’t be on his radar. Doing what he can to make a fair salary work within the confines of the team’s greater budgetary concerns? Sure! But sowing the seeds of resentment by taking a lesser deal might have repercussions down the road.

The players know what they’re worth and they know what everybody else makes. As admirable as just slap your signature down on the first contract the team slides across the table, union pressure and internal pressure to get what you can must not be ignored.

There is little reason to believe Jon Lester will ever test free agency. While the size of the extension he might sign (easy on the Cole Hamels comparisons, folks) is up for debate, it appears his dedication to Boston is not. That is as loud an endorsement of both the culture the Red Sox built AND the culture of winning as you can hear. Nice to see a little dedication for once.