Once again, right-handed veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett is becoming a household name around the trade deadline.
And this time, it appears he could be joining a team he once played for in the form of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that enters play on Monday at 52-46, just 1 1/2 games back of the two teams tied atop the National League Central – the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers.
Before we delve into recent reports, it’s important to clarify that Pittsburgh is not one of the teams Burnett can block a trade to, according to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish:
Though Burnett can block trades to 21 major league teams, major league sources indicate that the Pirates are one of the nine teams on his “acceptable assignment” list, meaning that he would embrace a return to Pittsburgh if the two teams were to agree on a deal.
The 37-year-old is 6-9 with a 4.08 ERA in 21 starts for the Phillies this season and is under contract for just this season – (although he does have a mutual option year in 2015). Those numbers are a far cry from his 3.30 earned run average with the Pirates in 2013, due to a WHIP that is higher than its been in three years.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Orioles are also interested in the veteran right-hander, and the two sides have had preliminary talks. That being said, the report goes on to explain that the Pirates may be a more logical choice – one of the reasons noted is the fact that the Orioles will have six starters once Ubaldo Jimenez returns from the disabled list.
The Pirates raved about Burnett’s effect on their younger pitchers last season. Although his time there ended on a sour note in the postseason, he was welcomed with a standing ovation at PNC Park earlier this month. And there is a need: Gerrit Cole is on the disabled list.
Burnett was a key component of last year’s history-making Bucs team that put together the organization’s first winning season and playoff victory since Walkmans were still popular. Pittsburgh, which is, as noted, locked in a tight battle for the NL Central, needs another arm to compete with the likes of the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds.
Burnett appears to be the most logical choice.
If Philadelphia, which is in all-out sell mode right now, were willing to eat some of the money owed Burnett, which was a sticking issue between the Pirates and the veteran in offseason talks, in exchange for a mid-level talent, the inning-eating right-hander may find himself playing a role in pushing the fans of the Steel City back to postseason mode.
Burnett is nearing the end of the line. There’s no reason he shouldn’t – and won’t – return to the Pirates for a final go-round.