Burnett's decision surprises some former Pirates teammates
BRADENTON, Fla. — This offseason, Jeff Locke got more phone calls and text messages than usual from his teammates. They all wanted to know if pitcher A.J. Burnett, Locke's mentor and best friend on the team, was coming back to the Pirates.
“They told me, ‘We don't want to call him, so we'll call you because it's the next-best thing,' ” Locke said Thursday. “Everybody was asking if I was trying to sway him to come back here. I said, no, I'll let A.J. make his own decision. He's a grown man, and he's not going to listen to a kid like me, anyway.”
Wednesday, Burnett agreed to a one-year, $16 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The next morning, Pirates pitchers and catchers — many of whom had expected Burnett to re-sign with the team — held their first spring training workout.
“I was a bit surprised (by Burnett's defection),” catcher Russell Martin said. “He seemed like he was wanting to come back here. I don't know what all went into his decision making and don't really feel the need to ask him. He got a nice chunk of change, that's for sure.”
Martin sent a text to Burnett after word got out that he'd signed with the Phillies.
“I wished him well,” Martin said. “I hope he stays healthy and has a good season ... and, hopefully, we'll meet him in the playoffs and beat him.”
Burnett originally said he'd only want to play for the Pirates if he chose not to retire. But after the season ended, the 37-year-old right-hander kept silent about his plans for more than three months.
Not even Locke, who spent a few days this winter as a guest at Burnett's home in Monkton, Md., knew what Burnett wanted to do.
“It was a big mystery,” Locke said. “I know he stayed prepared all offseason — he threw, he stayed in shape. Yeah, we talked, but we never talked much about baseball.”
Burnett finally told the Pirates he would consider a contract offer — but they wouldn't be the only bidder. Burnett wanted to stay close to home, so he drew interest from the Phillies, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.
“Based on my conversations with A.J. and his agent, (the decision) was based on proximity to home,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “He can drive home after a game. That's what I was told, and I'm going to take them on their word.”
Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia is about 100 miles from Monkton, compared to 250 miles from Burnett's home to PNC Park. Also, the Phillies' deal is $4 million richer than what the Pirates offered.
“Some guys are upset about it, of course, because they had their sights set on him coming back,” Locke said. “I think it's unfortunate we weren't able to bring him back here, partly because he's a great clubhouse leader. But he's also a 200-strikeout, 200-inning right-hander, and that's kind of a big deal.”
Even without Burnett, the Pirates have plenty of candidates to fill out their rotation behind Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton. If he's overcome arm problems from last season, Wandy Rodriguez will get a spot. New arrival Edinson Volquez and Locke could compete for the No. 5 job.
“It could be one guy, it could be two guys to pick up the volume of innings (Burnett threw last year),” manager Clint Hurdle said.
“We'll miss (Burnett),” closer Jason Grilli said. “But, we can't hang our heads about losing one guy. We'll move on.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Meteor lights up night sky above eastern U.S.
- Mon Valley experts react to domestic abuse reports
- Pirates analyst Kent Tekulve recovering after heart transplant
- Dorfman: Pluses and minuses in America’s 20 largest stocks
- New approach on offense has Pirates in playoff contention this season
- Steelers veteran defenders want young teammates to step up
- Classical music crisis: Author says schools today aren’t building audiences
- Wheel separation incidents occasionally prove deadly; NTSB doesn’t track them
- Fracking not the problem, Ohio State scientist finds
- Kent State provocation with ‘blood’ sweatshirt denied
- Pitt football coach Chryst refutes analyst Wannstedt’s opinion