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February 12, 2014

EXTRA INNINGS: Bucs showed improvement in 2013

OPINION — Rounding the bases…

FIRST BASE: On May 10, 2013, no one in Pittsburgh knew that Francisco Liriano (16-8), Gerrit Cole (10-7), and Charlie Morton (7-4) would combine for a 33-19 record or that Marlon Byrd would fill the huge gap in the middle of the Clint Hurdle’s lineup, or that Justin Morneau would answer the Pirates’ first base problem.

The starting rotation that opened the season included A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, and Jeff Locke.

The Bucs upgraded their roster as the season progressed: Liriano came off the DL on May 11, followed by Morton on June 13. Cole first pitched in the majors on June 11, and Byrd and Morneau were added in late August.

These are good points to remember as spring training opens.

It is true that there are many questions the Pirates must try to answer before March 31 arrives. That’s the date we should be worried about the roster, not on February 12.

SECOND BASE: The Burnett saga continues to perplex everyone.

The last official comment we heard from the right-hander came last fall when he said he would play for the Pirates in 2014 or retire.

Throughout the off-season, nothing official has happened. Actually until two weeks ago, nothing at all had happened. Even so, all we’ve heard has been “reports” that Burnett wanted to pitch in 2014 after all.

Again “reports” have suggested where he might end up, if not with the Pirates. But again, nothing has come from either Burnett or his agent.

Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington has replayed the same answer any time the subject arises. He simply indicates that the Pirates are interested, but are respecting Burnett as he works through the process.

Burnett made $16.5 million in each of his two seasons with the Pirates, with the Yankees picking up $11.5 million in 2012 and $8.5 million last year. “Reports” have indicated the Pirates offered their pitching leader an $8.5 million contract this year.

Seeing what money various other pitchers got this winter, the Bucs’ best offer is insulting—asking one of the game’s best pitchers to have a 50 percent cut. That offer is just $3.5 million more than the Bucs gave Edinson Volquez, whose major-league ERA was the worst in all of baseball last season.

In effect, if the Pirates signed Burnett for $13 million this season, the money from their pockets would total $26.5 million for his three years—an average of less than $9 million a year.

Experts have placed Burnett’s value in 2014 at $20 million, a figure that even the 37-year-old hurler knows is not going to happen. But to expect a pitcher who is given credit for transforming the Pirates from baseball’s outhouse to the playoffs should certainly be displeased with the way the Bucs have handled this situation.

THIRD BASE: Considering the mountains of snow and the many days of double-digit below zero wind chills and the number of school delays, today is a day that should warm the hearts of everyone, even those who don’t follow our national pastime.

Pirate pitchers and catchers have been trickling in for a week, scheduled to report to Bradenton’s training complex today in preparation for tomorrow’s first official workout.

The first full-squad workout is next Tuesday, with the first Grapefruit League game two weeks from today, when the Yankees visit Bradenton at 1:05 p.m.

HOME: The Pirates’ first spring game will be aired on 93.7 The Fan.

The first televised game on Root Sports from spring training will be at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, March 9 when the Bucs host the Red Sox.

Four additional pre-season games will be aired on Root Sports: 1:05 p.m. on Monday, March 17 against the Yankees; 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday, March 19 at Boston and Friday, March 21 at the Yankees; and 1:05 p.m. Saturday, March 29 at Philadelphia. ESPN will air the 1:05 p.m. game on Monday, March 24 against Detroit.

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