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Veteran pitcher Burnett agrees to contract with Philadelphia

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 12:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett sits in the dugout after giving up seven runs during the third 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 pitcher A.J. Burnett acknowledges the crowd after pitching a complete game against the Rockies on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, at PNC Park.

Pirates pitchers and catchers hold their first workout Thursday in Bradenton, Fla., and the Pirates confirmed Wednesday that A.J. Burnett will not be among the group.

The Burnett offseason saga and his tenure as a Pirate drew to a close Wednesday as the veteran right-hander reached an agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies. The deal is for one year and $16 million, according to multiple reports.

A source familiar with the situation told the Tribune-Review that the Pirates offered Burnett a one-year, $12 million deal.

In two years with the Pirates, Burnett logged 393 innings, struck out 389 batters and last year helped the club to a 94-win season and its first playoff berth in 21 years.

Burnett said last year his preference was to play for the Pirates in 2014 or retire. But after mulling retirement, Burnett decided last month to return to pitch, and he also elected to take his services to the open market where top-of-the rotation pitchers can earn north of $20 million per season. Burnett's preference was to pitch near his Monkton, Md., offseason home, and he also was believed to prefer pitching in the National League, where he resurrected his career after the Pirates acquired him in a February 2012 trade with the New York Yankees.

“He informed us it was family-based,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said of Burnett's decision. “The player made a decision to be closer to home. I was told he really loved his time here. It was a really hard decision for him.”

Huntington said the Pirates wanted to retain Burnett.

“A.J. would have had the biggest single impact of any move we could have made this offseason,” he said.

The Pirates declined to extend a one-year qualifying offer of $14.1 million in November, which would have awarded the club draft-pick compensation had Burnett signed elsewhere. It also would have also likely depressed his market.

“Teams that offer qualifying offers either feel very strongly that the player is going to get a multiyear deal elsewhere that incentivizes them to decline the qualifying offer, or they have complete comfort with that player returning on the fourteen-plus-million qualifying offer,” Huntington said. “In both scenarios, the answer was ‘no' for us.

“From a value standpoint, you can argue that $14 million should have been a no-brainer, and we understand that. But the reality is in 10 to 15 markets, a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll and something — right or wrong — we were not comfortable in doing at that time.

“It's always easy to look in hindsight. If he'd accepted the offer, it would have had a significant impact on what we could have done. ... It would have affected our approach on the first-base market, the right-field market and bullpen market. If we had a crystal ball and seen this is the way it would play out, maybe things are different.”

Huntington said he was not surprised Burnett tested the market. “We never assumed it was Pittsburgh or nothing,” Huntington said.

Burnett earned $16.5 million last season in the final year of his contract, although the Yankees paid $8 million of his salary. Burnett went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA last season, giving the Pirates 191 innings.

The signing means free agent acquisition Edinson Volquez is perhaps the favorite to replace Burnett in the starting rotation.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he spoke with Burnett on Wednesday and thanked him for his contributions over the last two seasons.

“I look it not as a challenge but as an opportunity,” Hurdle said of replacing Burnett. “I believe we having pitching depth.”

Burnett missed 24 games while on the disabled list with a strained calf, and his risk of injury increases with age. Still, according to wins above replacement, Burnett's 2013 performance was worth $20 million.

Investing in a 37-year-old pitcher is risky, but Burnett has displayed few signs of aging. He led the NL in groundball rate and strikeout rate last season. But he also was helped by a spacious PNC Park, the Pirates' defensive shifts and catcher Russell Martin's game-calling and pitch-framing abilities.

“We would have loved to have him back,” Huntington said. “(But) the core of our production is back. the core of our team is on the young side of the aging curve, meaning for the most part we should get better.”

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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