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February 20, 2014

EXTRA INNINGS: Burnett had millions of reasons to go to Philly

0PINION — ALTHOUGH there are no fireworks display scheduled after the Pirates’ Fourth of July game this summer at PNC Park, there could be plenty of pyrotechnics during the game itself.

That’s the first time the Pirates will meet the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014.

And if the scheduling gurus have anything to say about it, who do you think will take the mound for the Bucs’ cross-state rivals?

After telling the Pirates last summer that he would play for them this season or retire, Burnett on Sunday inked a contract with Philadelphia.

Burnett’s deal, according to several reports, is worth $15 million--$7.5 million of that in the form of a signing bonus. He has a $15 million mutual option for 2015. If the Phillies decline, Burnett can activate a $7.5 million player option. So, including his $1 million buyout, Burnett is guaranteed $23.5 million if he wants to pitch in 2015, with the possibility of getting up to $33.5 million if he makes 30 or more starts in 2014 and 2015.

Or he could have returned to the Bucs, whose last offer was $12 million for one year.

So there are millions of reasons (about $21.5 million of them) why Burnett chose Philadelphia, none of which I have a problem with.

But be honest.

Burnett claims his final decision was swayed by a 90-minute trip from his Maryland home to Philadelphia.

“I'll put it very simple,” he said. “This is the first time in my career that I made a decision that wasn't about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I'm at home, and I can still do what I love. And that feels good. It was a no-brainer to me to make them happy.”

Burnett said that while he considering retirement, he also realized that he still wanted to play.

“After speaking with my wife and the kids, they see it,” Burnett said. “They know that I'm not ready to go out right now. Daddy can still do it.”

No one can blame Burnett, whose 2014 value based on his 2013 performance was estimated at $20 million, for turning down the Pirates, who last weekend added $3.5 million to their original $8.5 million offer to the 37-year-old right-hander.

After ridding the 20-year-old losing atmosphere from Pittsburgh upon his arrival, Burnett became the Face of Change.

No doubt he will be missed…but not $33 million worth of missed.

Burnett said that his decision was not based on his being passed over in the deciding game against St. Louis in the playoffs or that the team didn’t offer him a $14.1 million qualifying offer last fall. And if Burnett was less than honest, so was his former boss.

"We have a lot of youngsters in camp who now will have a better chance to step up and be noticed," manager Clint Hurdle said.

"I think one of the exciting things is that it opens up opportunities for the men that we have here in camp," Hurdle added. "One of the things that you continually want to give to people is opportunity.”

So following that logic, let’s jettison Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen to “open up opportunities for the men we have here in camp.”

There were reasons not to sign Burnett: While it was just one game, Burnett was bombed for seven runs in two innings in the team’s biggest game of the year — make that in 20 years.

Also, as a “leader” Burnett motioned during a July game last summer for relievers to stop warming up, resulting in a confrontation with Hurdle in the dugout. And in a September game, Burnett shouted at Clint Barmes for committing an error, then the two exchanged words in the dugout.

What would make anyone think that there weren’t other volatile instances fans didn’t see?

Whatever, Burnett’s July 4 return to Pittsburgh will be a sellout; it could also be explosive.

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for Allied News.

 

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