Pittsburgh likely to struggle without Burnett in 2014

Pittsburgh likely to struggle without Burnett in 2014

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Former Pittsburgh Pirates' pitcher A.J. Burnett sets up for a pitch during the 2013 season. Burnett recently signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Steven Bartley, Rocket Contributor
February 19, 2014
Filed under Sports

The 2013 season was a magical one for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They made the playoffs for the first time since 1992, ending a 21-year drought. The team saw success at which seemed so far gone just a couple years ago.

In my opinion, 2014 will have a different result. They are sitting on a boatload of money and are doing nothing with it.

As the team begins Spring Training in Bradenton, Fl., they are without 2013 starter A.J. Burnett, who signed a $15 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Pirates let their top strikeout guy go for no good reason.

In 2013, Burnett had his lowest ERA in ten years (3.30) and struck out 209 batters. There is no pitcher on their current lineup that can strike out people like he can.

Fans are now upset at Burnett because of his “I’ll be back with the Pittsburgh Pirates or retire” statement he made following the conclusion of “Buctober”. But can they really blame him?

Let’s be honest, he had some rough outings last year, including several shaky performances in St. Louis that led Clint Hurdle to make the decision to start rookie Gerrit Cole over him in Game 5 against the Cardinals.

Cole is the only pitcher in the lineup that seemed to have consistency in 2013. He is a guy that throws a 100 mph fastball and mixes up the off speed stuff really well. Although Francisco Liriano had an impressive season last year, he has had injury problems throughout his career.

With Burnett around, Liriano didn’t have to be “the guy” all the time and I think that took some pressure off him. Fans have to wonder if he will have the same success this season, especially with him being named the opening day starter and ace of the rotation.

There were times last year when many thought Wandy Rodriguez would never pitch again. He was having all kinds of problems with his pitching elbow.

Now he is going to be looked at to pitch a significant number of innings as a starter. Jeff Locke absolutely fell off the face of the planet last year after the All-Star Break.

Charlie Morton is coming off Tommy John surgery and even though he was really good at the end of the year, some guys never fully recover after that type of surgery. The only real big free agent the Pirates brought in was Edinson Volquez. The Pirates signed him to $5 million contract. He went 9-12 with an ERA of 5.31. Volquez has consistency issues and is injury prone.

I think the Pirates really screwed up by not signing Burnett.

Pittsburgh could have some of their best pitchers coming out of the bullpen this year. Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon were one of the best closing duos in the league throughout 2013. Although each struggled at different points, they were dominant most of the year.

The Pirates didn’t want to sign Burnett because they allegedly were going to spend money on a right fielder and a first baseman, which they did not do. Because they failed to complete these goals so far, Jose Tabata and Travis Snider will probably split the work in right field and Gaby Sanchez and Andrew Lambo will be at first. Lambo was primarily an outfielder for Pittsburgh last season, but has been getting reps in at the first base spot.

After having a breakout season in 2013, the Pirates have a lot of work to do if they hope to achieve the same feat they did last year.

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