When the Pirates host a playoff game tomorrow for the first time since 1992, thank one man above the rest: P A.J. Burnett.
Burnett contributed literally this past Friday, beating Cincinnati 4-1. Burnett’s eight innings were so gutsy they dripped blood. The Reds barely got a sniff.
Despite an ordinary 10-11 record, Burnett is the Pirates’ heart. He contributes far beyond his stats. Burnett gives the Pirates a chance to win every time he pitches, and the team has taken on his personality.
Burnett doesn’t F around. He is in the business of baseball. The business of winning. His focus and influence are tangible. The trickledown to the young pitchers has been monstrous. But the whole team follows his lead.
Starting Francisco Liriano tomorrow is the right move.
Here’s hoping it leads to Burnett pitching Game 1 of a National League Division Series.
Burnett is a free agent at season’s end. He made $16.5m this year, with the New York Yankees paying $8.5m. He made $16.5 last year, with the Yankees paying $11.5m. The Pirates have enjoyed Burnett on the cheap.
Burnett, 36, says he will either pitch in Pittsburgh next season or retire. His resolve may be tested if big money comes calling.
I don’t know what Burnett wants paid to keep pitching.
I do know the Pirates have to pay it. NO CHOICE.
Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke and Jameson Taillon are at the Pirates’ mercy contractually. Charlie Morton is up for arbitration but should be affordable. Liriano has one year left on a two-year, $7m deal. Wandy Rodriguez will likely exercise a player option that pays him $13m next season.
There is a pitching surplus. Burnett might be gone.
Burnett's departure would be no big deal -- if the Pirates don’t mind going back to square one emotionally. If the Pirates don’t want to build on the momentum this season provided.
Bob Nutting just about has Pirates fans convinced that he’s forsaken the con to pursue winning. If he lets Burnett go, Nutting has a PR problem.
KEEP BURNETT. Burnett deserves it. The Pirates’ locker room deserves it. Pirates fans deserve it.
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