The Pittsburgh Pirates have "turned the page'' on the likelihood of pitcher A.J. Burnett returning to their starting rotation, but they're leaving the door open a sliver and have the financial leeway to try to accommodate him if he decides he wants to pitch in 2014, club president Frank Coonelly told ESPN.com.
"We'd love to have A.J. back, but right now we've turned the page and we're heading to Bradenton (Fla.) thinking he's not going to be with us,'' Coonelly said. "But if he surprises us and calls up tomorrow and says he wants to pitch again, we'd love to have him.''
Burnett, 37, went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA last season and led the Pirates staff with 191 innings pitched and 209 strikeouts. In October, he told a Pittsburgh radio station that he would either return to the Pirates as a free agent this year or retire.
Burnett's prolonged silence on his plans has fueled recent speculation that he's leaning toward calling it quits. Agent Darek Braunecker declined to comment Thursday when asked for an update on Burnett.
In December, the Pirates declined to extend a $14.1 million qualifying offer to Burnett, which would have entitled them to draft pick compensation if he signs with another club. At the moment, the Pirates still haven't received definitive word from Burnett on his plans.
Coonelly's comments jibe with recent observations by Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Searage, who has said on multiple occasions that he expects the pitcher to retire. Nevertheless, Searage recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he's heard Burnett continues to work out and stay in shape in case he decides to pitch.
In December the Pirates agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal with free agent Edinson Volquez, who has a chance to join Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez in Pittsburgh's 2014 rotation. Left-hander Jeff Locke, who made the National League All-Star team before fading to 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA in 12 starts after the break, is also in the mix along with Brandon Cumpton and Phil Irwin.
Burnett was the highest-paid player on the Pittsburgh roster at $16.5 million last season, but Coonelly said the team has some latitude in the payroll to bring him back.
"If he surprises us and he calls tomorrow and he's as passionate and competitive and as determined as he was for the first two years that he was with us, we would be thrilled to have him back,'' Coonelly said. "And we have the flexibility to bring him back.''