PITTSBURGH - If the Pittsburgh Pirates don't re-sign A.J. Burnett, what will they do to replace him?
You can make the case that Burnett is far from Cy Young, that he wants too much money, that he's near the end of the line, and that he's often a tattooed pain in the neck.
All valid points, but here's the overriding issue: He was a durable and dependable starting pitcher on a team that succeeded mostly because of its pitching in 2013.
There's a price tag on every player. Teams decide what a player is worth, and that doesn't always coincide with the figure the player has in mind. That's why salary arbitration and free agency are part of the process.
The Pirates may have decided Burnett is too expensive, and that's fine. But if he leaves, they have to make up 191 innings and some pretty good work.
What makes abandoning Burnett risky is the Pirates don't have a rotation that should inspire a lot of confidence.
Wandy Rodriguez didn't pitch after June 5 last year. He's 35. Jeff Locke made the All-Star team, but had a terrible second half. He was only trusted to start four times over the last 31 games.
Francisco Liriano did a tremendous job. He showed signs of wearing down at the end, though, and wasn't nearly as good in the last month of the season.
Charlie Morton, as always, has tremendous talent. But is he a go-to guy?
Gerrit Cole got better as the season went on, and was the Pirates' best starter at the end of the season. However, his resume consists of 21 major league starts.
Free agent Edinson Volquez has been signed with the hope pitching coach Ray Searage can engineer the kind of rebuild he did with Liriano. Searage is good, but he couldn't fix Jonathan Sanchez last year, and he didn't find a way to straighten out Locke in the second half.
GM Neal Huntington has said more than once that a team needs seven or eight starters rather than five. Injuries always happen.
The Pirates have Jameson Taillon in the wings, and he could be up by mid-season. He's a prospect, but Jim Leyland was fond of saying, "A prospect is somebody who hasn't done anything yet."
Brandon Cumpton was competent, but his track record is five major league starts. Jeanmar Gomez was a capable swing man.
The Pirates will still apparently have a spotty offense. Marlon Byrd, who helped greatly down the stretch, is gone. They're going to rely on pitching again, and that currently appears to be a risky proposition.
They don't have to re-sign Burnett. But they do have to replace him.
I'll take Denver.
There's more about this at my "Mainly Mehno" blog at altoonamirror.com.
Football season ends tonight, and baseball doesn't start for real until March 31.
Sorry, I don't care about the Olympics, I'm not much of a basketball fan, and hockey doesn't really matter until April.
That leaves us with almost two months.
Bears have the right idea: Hibernate.
Mehno can be reached at email@example.com.