Life went on at Pirate City Thursday as pitchers and catchers reported to spring training without A.J. Burnett, their 2013 opening day starter. Burnett turned down a one-year, $12 million offer by the Pirates to sign with Philadelphia for $16 million on the eve of spring training, leaving his former teammates surprised. By mid-morning it had sunken in that the mercurial right-hander would not be strutting through the clubhouse. "I was thinking he'll just walk in here one day and say, 'I'm here!' But it is what it is," said left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano. "I was kind of surprised. I was hoping he would come back and play with us. But that's how it is. It's baseball." And business. Burnett, who rekindled his career with the Pirates in two years, saw his ERA plunge, his ground-ball rate soar and his stock rise as a clubhouse leader, despite some incidents that might have signaled otherwise. "I was a bit surprised. That's just about everything I was, I was surprised," said catcher Russell Martin. "He seemed like he was wanting to come back here, and yeah, that's it. I don't know all what went into his decision-making. I'm not A.J. and didn't feel the need to ask him. He got a nice chunk of change, that's for sure." Martin said he texted Burnett to wish him well, adding he hopes Burnett stays healthy so the two teams meet in the playoffs and the Pirates can "beat him." Pirates general manager Neal Huntington pursued Burnett's return, but said he was told by Burnett and his agent that location ruled the choice to sign with the Phillies, not dollars. "Based on my conversations with A.J. and with his agent, it was driven by proximity to home and the fact he can drive home after any game and be home and be there the next morning," said Huntington. "Anything he needs to be home for, proximity is what I've been told. I'm going to take them for their word." Burnett, 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA over two seasons as a Pirate, also averaged 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings. His presence went beyond the numbers.
Pirates will move on after A.J. Burnett moves on
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Feb 14