Pirates pitching coach is not counting on A.J. Burnett's return

A.J. Burnett may still return to the Pirates, but they aren't counting on him.
A.J. Burnett may still return to the Pirates, but they aren't counting on him. (USATSI)

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This has been an uncertain offseason for right-hander A.J. Burnett, who is said to be debating between retirement and another year with the Pirates. He is not considering joining another team.

The Pirates are open to re-signing Burnett but they don't want to wait forever either. They added Edinson Volquez on a one-year contract a few weeks ago and are expecting Wandy Rodriguez to return from an elbow injury in time for the start of the season. During an interview with 93-7 The Fan Morning Show on CBS Radio Pittsburgh, pitching coach Ray Searage said he is moving forward with the expectation that Burnett will not return to the team in 2014:

“I’m on that percentage point where he’s not going to come back,” Searage said. “I’ve got to prepare the pitching with no A.J, so that’s the route I’m going right now. If he does come back, alright. But right now, I’m leaning that way, where he’s going to retire.”

“There isn’t any information on A.J.,” Searage added. “We’re still waiting.”

Burnett, 37, has been very good for the Pirates these last two years. His 3.41 ERA (107 ERA+) comes with both a high strikeout rate (8.9 K/9) and a high ground ball rate (56.7 percent). Burnett has also thrown at least 185 innings in each of the last six years, so he's proven durable after battling injuries earlier in his career.

Pittsburgh will move forward with a rotation anchored by Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Volquez and Rodriguez. Right-handers Jeanmar Gomez and Brandon Cumpton serve as depth and top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon could make his debut sometime this summer. The Pirates have rotation depth but they could always make room for someone like Burnett.

The Orioles have expressed interest in Burnett, who lives in Maryland. Several other clubs would have interest as well if he were open to signing somewhere other than Pittsburgh. A veteran workhorse who would likely take a one-year contract is a very popular free agent target most offseasons.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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