Pittsburgh Pirates: Has A.J. Burnett made his last start at PNC Park?

A.J. Burnett (Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Daniel/ Getty Images)

A.J. Burnett (Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Daniel/ Getty Images)

For the Pittsburgh Pirates, acquiring A.J.Burnett nineteen months ago from the New York Yankees was a blessing. On Saturday night in front of a sold out PNC Park, Burnett shined in what may have been his last regular season home game in a Pirates uniform.

There is no doubt that Burnett has been a key part of the Pirates turnaround over the last two seasons. He has been a passionate leader, a mentor to the young pitchers, and most of all he’s been a solid pitcher for the Pirates.

Prior to coming to the Pirates in February 2012, Burnett struggled in three seasons with the Yankees. He posted a  34-35 record with the two highest ERAs of his career the final two seasons (5.25 and 5.15). The fans hated his attitude.

Burnett was embraced by the Pirates and their fans from day one. They appriciated his toughness and love of the game.

He has had his moments like a recent tiff with Clint Barmes that may have been over played by the media. A recent Twitter post had fans in an uproar, but it was more of a misunderstanding as the veteran was calling for support from the Pirates faithful.

Burnett’s contract is up at the end of the season. The 36-year-old veteran has stated his love for the city of Pittsburgh, but according to a beat reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Burnett is 50-50 on playing next year.

This is something we’ve heard all year, even during Spring Training: that Pittsburgh is where  the veteran said he would be open to returning. The Baltimore Orioles are the other team speculated, since Burnett resides in Baltimore.

Burnett would bolster the starting rotation if he decides to stay in Pittsburgh. Currently, the rotation consists of Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole. Wandy Rodriguez is expected to return under a player option, but his health will be a question. All-Star Jeff Locke could also be a valuable commodity if he can return to his first-half form.

The Pirates are willing to spend the money if Burnett wants to stay around.

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“We’re going to do everything within our power to keep A.J. here,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. “Our goal is to have A.J. be a Pittsburgh Pirate next year absolutely.”

The Pirates will have the money to spend to keep Burnett around. They are projected to spend a little over $74 million in 2013. Plus teams are expected to get a boost next year with the National TV revenue coming in, which could add at least an additional $20 million to each team’s budget. In theory that means the Pirates have plenty of room to bring back Burnett.

Burnett went 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA in 2012 with the Pirates. This season his ERA is 3.39, but due to low run support in many outings, Burnett is 9-11 on the season. He surrendered 18 home runs last year and only 10 this season.

It is hard to imagine the Pirates rotation without Burnett in it. Hopefully Saturday wasn’t the last look at the veteran for Pirates fans.