The Pirates offered A.J. Burnett $12 million, the Post-Gazette reports. Again, there's the issue of the qualifying offer. Obviously, it wouldn't have made sense to extend Burnett a $14.1 million qualifying offer near the beginning of the offseason if they believed they could sign him for less than that, but if that's what the Pirates believed, it turns out they were wrong. And so it looks like the Pirates effectively gambled a draft pick on $2.1 million worth of savings, and lost everything.
Maybe that's the wrong way to look at it. There are a ton of variables here, and a bunch of ways of looking at them. The Pirates were probably offering less than $12 million at around the time of the qualifying offer deadline, as the Post-Gazette suggests. But if the Bucs were willing to go to $12 million even after signing Edinson Volquez, it's a shame they couldn't have just offered $14.1 million to begin with, since it appears they tried to spend at least $17 million on starting pitchers this offseason, with $12 million going to Burnett and $5 million to Volquez.
Anyway, here's Neal Huntington on the qualifying offer:
"From a value standpoint, you can argue that $14 million should have been a no-brainer, and we understand that. But the reality is in 10 to 15 markets, a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll and something — right or wrong — we were not comfortable in doing at that time.
"It's always easy to look in hindsight. If he'd accepted the offer, it would have had a significant impact on what we could have done. ... It would have affected our approach on the first-base market, the right-field market and bullpen market. If we had a crystal ball and seen this is the way it would play out, maybe things are different."
The "large chunk of payroll" argument remains very frustrating. Burnett is easily worth more than $14.1 million, and although I don't think he's a good fit for the Phillies, he's a very good value even at $16 million. The qualifying offer is a one-year deal that poses no long-term risk. The Pirates need to get used to paying good players like good players every so often, or else they're going to be run like the Rays, even though the Rays' situation is, at least on the surface, far worse than the Pirates', due to their stadium and the fact that they're based in Tampa. No, check that -- even the Rays are paying a player (David Price) $14 million this year.
Obviously, the Rays are a very well-run organization. There are far worse fates than being the Rays, and if the Pirates can string together a bunch of Rays-type seasons (and that's certainly possible, given their talent base), I'm going to have a ton of fun rooting for them. But the Rays have a tiny margin of error each year. And after a season that featured a big bump in attendance and an influx of national TV money, the Pirates had the opportunity to retain a very good player on a reasonable one-year deal, and they didn't take it. It sounds like Neal Huntington expected the Pirates to be able to spend that money elsewhere, and they didn't (presumably because, for example, Josh Johnson chose San Diego and James Loney chose Tampa). That's unfortunate, but I see that as less of a problem in itself than the large chunk of payroll argument, which obviously is related, but a little different. If a good player on a reasonable one-year deal is too large a chunk of your payroll, it's the payroll that's the problem, not the player's salary.
Maybe the Pirates truly don't have the money to pay good players reasonable salaries, even after a season in which nearly everything went right for them. Even after it became clear that the Pirates weren't going to get Johnson or Loney, they didn't get that close to the Phillies' offer. In that case, there's little I can do but shrug, because it appears there isn't much upward mobility in Major League Baseball, at least not for the Pirates, regardless of what happens.