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Pirates do not make qualifying offer to Burnett

| Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, 5:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett delivers during the first inning against the Cardinals on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin talks with pitcher A.J. Burnett on the mound during a game against the Cardinals at PNC Park.

The Pirates want free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett back in their starting rotation next year, but not if it costs $14.1 million.

Finances played a role in the club's decision to forgo making a $14.1 million qualifying offer to Burnett by the 5 p.m. Monday deadline. Although no offer was made, that does not mean the Pirates have given up trying to lure him back.

“Nothing has changed in terms of our situation with A.J.,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “This decision is not a reflection of our valuation of A.J. It's more a reflection of our desire to build a championship roster. A $14.1 million (offer) is a significant chunk of our estimated budget for next year.”

The Pirates spent about $75 million this season for the players on their 40-man roster. That figure is expected to rise to between $90 million and $100 million next year.

“The challenge is, the valuation of a player and our ability to field a championship roster don't always align,” Huntington said.

Burnett was the Opening Day starter in 2013. Next year, however, the right-hander figures to be at best the No. 3 guy in the rotation behind Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole. The Pirates also have veteran depth with Wandy Rodriguez, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.

The Pirates still can work out a contract with Burnett, who this year made $16.5 million (of which the Pirates were responsible for $8 million). Huntington declined to comment when asked if he is willing to offer Burnett anything longer than a one-year deal.

Starting Tuesday, Burnett will be free to negotiate with every major league club. In a recent radio interview, Burnett indicated he likely will retire if he does not pitch for the Pirates in 2014.

Has Burnett told the Pirates he will play again next year?

“I'll let A.J. talk for himself on that,” Huntington said, without elaborating.

Burnett has declined requests for comment by the Tribune-Review.

The amount of the qualifying offer is the average of MLB's top 125 contracts. If a team makes a qualifying offer, it gets a compensatory draft pick if the player signs with another club.

By not making an offer, the Pirates will get no compensation if Burnett signs elsewhere. The team likely figured that Burnett — who will be 37 years old on Opening Day — is not inclined to latch on with a new team.

Burnett averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings, which led the National League and was the best rate of his 15-year career. Burnett's 1.215 WHIP was his lowest since 2007.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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