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Source: Burnett to pitch again in 2014

| Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, 5:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Rockies on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett celebrates with catcher Russell Martin after pitching a complete game against the Rockies on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, at PNC Park.

After keeping the Pirates and the baseball world waiting for nearly the entire offseason, veteran free agent A.J. Burnett has decided to pitch in 2014, a source close to the situation told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday. Burnett was considering retirement.

Burnett's decision to return does not mean he will limit himself to pitching for the Pirates, though Burnett indicated that was his preference last season. The 37-year-old right-hander led the National League in groundball rate and strikeout rate last season, showing no signs of diminishing skills. The Phillies and Orioles also have reportedly expressed interest in Burnett, who makes his offseason home in Maryland.

“He's made the decision he is going to play,” said a source, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I suspect he is going to open himself up to the market.”

Burnett earned $16.5 million last season in the final year of his contract, though the Yankees paid $8 million of his salary as a condition of the 2012 trade that brought him to Pittsburgh. Burnett was a key player in leading the Pirates to a 94-win season and playoff berth in 2013. He went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA last season while pitching 191 innings.

The Pirates continue to express interest in retaining Burnett.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington wrote in a text message: “Our process continues with A.J. Nothing new to report from our end.”

If Burnett is to return to the Pirates, it will be at a discounted price. The decision would be tied to a comfort level pitching in Pittsburgh, where he turned around his career after struggling in New York. The Pirates declined to extend a one-year qualifying offer of $14.1 million to Burnett in November, which would have given the club draft pick compensation had Burnett signed elsewhere. According to wins above replacement — a statistic developed to gauge a player's total contributions to their team — Burnett's 2013 performance was worth $20 million.

At the winter meetings, Huntington said the club was hesitant to commit roughly 20 percent of the team's payroll to one player. The qualifying offer marks a 19 percent share of $75 million payroll, which is where the Pirates' payroll is expected to be to open the season.

There's plenty of need for starting pitching in the game. Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda has a similar profile to Burnett and signed a one-year, $16 million deal with the Yankees. Matt Garza recently signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Brewers.

Pirates president Frank Coonelly did not sound optimistic regarding Burnett when speaking with ESPN last week: “We'd love to have A.J. back, but right now we've turned the page and we're heading to Brandenton (Fla.) thinking he's not going to be with us.”

The Pirates and Burnett ended last season on a sour note when Burnett was upset about not starting Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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