PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates declined their $6
million option Wednesday on spare outfielder Jeromy Burnitz and
will pay him a $700,000 buyout that allows him to become a free
agent -- though he might retire.
Burnitz turned down a $12 million, two-year contract with the
Baltimore Orioles last winter to sign with Pittsburgh, apparently
to stay in the National League. Burnitz has played in the NL since
1998 with the Brewers, Mets, Dodgers, Rockies, Cubs and Pirates.
The move means the Pirates spent $6.7 million for an outfielder
who barely played after the All-Star break, getting only eight
at-bats in September and no starts after Sept. 5. He hit .230 in
111 games with 16 homers, 49 RBI and 74 strikeouts in 313 at-bats.
The Pirates signed Burnitz to give them a left-handed hitting
power threat in PNC Park, which has a cozy right-field home run
porch. But he got off to a poor start, with his average dropping to
.183 by mid-May, and subsequently saw his playing time decrease.
Burnitz said when the season ended that he might retire rather
than return for a 17th major league season. He has 315 homers and
981 RBI in 1,694 career games.
Orioles vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette was
unhappy when Burnitz didn't sign a two-year contract the club felt
had been agreed upon and instead went to Pittsburgh. Burnitz's
agent, Howard Simon, said Burnitz was unhappy with restrictions
placed by the Orioles on Burnitz's physical.
Pittsburgh spent about $15 million on veteran position players
Sean Casey, Joe Randa and Burnitz, only to get little from the trio
during a second consecutive 95-loss season. Casey was hurt for much
of his half-season with the Pirates and was traded to the Detroit
Tigers, who reached the World Series.
Randa [$4 million] began the season as the Pirates' starting
third baseman, but quickly lost his job to Freddy Sanchez, who went
on to win the NL batting title with a .344 average.