|"I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello..."|
AJ was hugely popular in Pittsburgh during his two-year stay, and why not? He posted a 26-21 record and a 3.41 ERA while making 61 starts with the Pirates and was edgy enough to pump up the fan base after seasons of watered down vanilla.
There was much gnashing of teeth when he signed with the Phils after a long, drawn-out off season of "will he or won't he?" He spurned the Bucs $12M bid - they didn't make a qualifying offer - and took Philadelphia's $16M deal. Burnett made an NL-leading 34 starts while pitching 213-2/3 innings last season. He also put up an 8-18/4.59 slash. Philly finished last in their division with 73 wins; so much for the greener pastures.
Batman does arrive with some concerns, chief among them being that he will be working his 17th season at age 38. He also led the league in losses, earned runs allowed and walks in 2014. The walks are worrisome, as is his GB rate, which dropped from 57% as a Buc to 51% with the Phils. Another issue is that his velocity dropped a bit - is that age or injury related?
But there are a lot of plusses. First, he really wants to be here; he had his agent negotiate solely with Pittsburgh, even though his backyard team, the Orioles, were said to be sniffing around. Leaving $4.25M on the table by signing with the Pirates instead of exercising his option is about as clear an indicator as can be. And Burnett is a guy the fans have taken in, and by all reports a mentor to young arms if occasionally a bit rowdy in the clubhouse. It's homecoming for AJ.
He also pitched through a hernia through most of the 2014 season; he had that taken care of October 3rd, and is ready to begin training. As far as the pitching, he'll be returning to a park that's friendly enough to hurlers and a shifting defense that should help a ground ball pitcher. Burnett and Ray Searage had a good relationship and better game plan, and that should pay off, too.
So the Bucs have added a fourth arm to join Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke; one more front-ender like Frankie Liriano, Brandon McCarthy or Jason Hammel should be on the agenda. Of course, the Pirates being the Pirates, another reclamation project could be on the horizon, too.
Another point of interest is that the 40-man roster now has 38 players. The deadline to protect players eligible for the Rule 5 draft is November 20th. Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Elias Diaz are no brainers, and there are a couple of other names that will be considered. A couple of weeks later, the Bucs have to settle with their arbitration-eligible players on December 2nd. So unlike last year, this hot stove session promises some early spartks.