MLB: New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates

It wasn’t even a month ago when the Pittsburgh Pirates called A.J. Burnett‘s “bluff”, stating their plans to open Spring Training without him. At the time, this space interpreted that message as one of leverage. The Bucs weren’t about to let the enigmatic right-hander dictate terms between them. So they made a bunch of noise about moving on.

After Burnett agreed to a one-year deal (with an option for a second) with the Philadelphia Phillies, it looks like the Pirates made the right decision. At least they made a decision – they were out of the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes. A report from Pirates beat writer John Perrotto suggests the Pirates were never actually in the Burnett sweepstakes.

According to the report in the Beaver Times Online, the Pirates offered A.J. Burnett a one-year contract for 2014…at the lofty price of $8.5 million. Total. That total comes from the total amount of money the Yankees kicked in to ease the right-hander’s exit out of the Bronx.

Burnett was, quite rightly, offended by the offer, though the Pirates eventually found it in their hearts to offer a whooping $11MM, another figure Burentt and his representation promptly shot down.

There could be any number of reasons behind Pittsburgh’s low ball offers. They do operate on a tight budget, one that isn’t flush with lucrative TV bucks like so many others. Or they consider pitchers like Jameson Taillon ready to compete in 2014, meaning they could get for basically nothing what Burnett would give them for eight figures.

Or, most likely, the Pirates looked at the two other factors and added Burnett’s “performance” after learning he wouldn’t start the deciding Game Five of the club’s NLDS battle with the Cardinals and decided to quit while they’re ahead in the A.J. Burnett business.

But everything changed when the Pirates decided not to start Burnett in the decisive Game 5 against the Cardinals in the National League Division Series after he had been rocked for seven runs in two innings in Game 1. Rookie Gerrit Cole got the start instead and the Pirates lost.

Manager Clint Hurdle told Burnett of his plan immediately after the Pirates lost in Game 4 at PNC Park, setting up the winner-take-all game two nights later at St. Louis.

Burnett was enraged by the decision and threatened to not fly with the team to St. Louis despite being told he would likely start Game 1 or 2 if the Pirates advanced to the National League Championship Series to face the Dodgers.

While the clubhouse was closed to the media, sources on the inside said it made for an awkward scene with the players still upset about suffering a tough 2-1 loss and failing to clinch the series while Burnett ranted.

While Burnett’s people suggest the Game 5 snub motivated him to play another year, it appears the Pirates had their out as far as “negotiating” with A.J. Burnett.

This was not a negotiation. Offering a pitcher fresh off 393 innings of 3.41 ERA baseball a similar contract to Josh Johnson (more than 100 fewer innings over the last two years, one of the worst starters in baseball in 2013) doesn’t seem like a fair starting point from this position.

The Pirates had other plans for 2014. Fine. A.J. Burnett did not conduct himself in an optimally professional manner when his team needed him the most. Fine. Feelings were hurt but cooler heads will prevail. Maybe.

Then again, if it sets up another acrimonious homecoming like Burnett’s 2009 start against the Blue Jays, Id be all for it.