Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Burnett Saga Leaves a Number of Question Marks Unanswered

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Burnett Saga Leaves a Number of Question Marks Unanswered

Article excerpt

In 25 days, Pirates pitchers and catchers will report for spring training. Pitching coach Ray Searage is taking a realistic approach as to whether A.J. Burnett will be among them.

"I'm going without A.J. until I hear differently," Searage said last week. "I have to."

Roughly three months have passed since Burnett, the free-agent right-hander who spent the past two seasons here, told KDKA-FM that he planned to return to the Pirates or retire. Burnett, 37, has given no indication of his plans, and Searage said he has not heard from Burnett despite reaching out. General manager Neal Huntington said last week that he continues to communicate with the Burnett camp.

"Still working through the process," Huntington said.

A recent report in the Baltimore Sun suggested that the Orioles were interested in Burnett, who lives in Maryland in the offseason. Burnett has given no indication that he has shifted from his Pirates- or-retire stance in October; he did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Burnett's decision will impact several areas. Here are some ramifications:

The rotation

Without Burnett, the rotation likely will consist of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract in December. The Pirates' starting depth consists of Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton and Phil Irwin. Jeanmar Gomez showed in 2013 that he can start if necessary, and Stolmy Pimentel pitched almost exclusively as a starter in his minor league career.

If Burnett returned, he would force someone from the rotation. Between the money the pitchers will earn and their level of performance, there is no clear-cut candidate for removal. The Pirates, however, have had more starters than rotation spots on the roster before and figured it out as they went, covering for injuries and sending starters to the bullpen if necessary.

The current starters are not all guarantees. Rodriguez missed the final four months of 2013 because of an injury to the flexor tendon in his left forearm. Searage said Rodriguez was throwing from 120 feet at the Pirates' recent mini-camp.

"He's going to go through some aches and pains as he's getting in shape, and he's got to understand that," Searage said. "I think he's got a good idea which is pain and which is soreness."

The Pirates also hope Volquez approaches a version of himself not seen since 2008. Volquez led the National League in earned runs last season and has had an ERA above 4.00 every season since 2009. His 5.71 ERA last season was the highest in baseball among qualified starters.

The payroll

After avoiding arbitration with all of their eligible players last week, the Pirates' 2014 payroll climbed to $70.8 million. The nine players who will round out the 25-man opening-day roster will make the major league minimum of $500,000 or slightly more, adding about $5 million. …

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