Burnitz may retire after Pirates decline $6M option

Updated: November 2, 2006, 12:16 AM ET
Associated Press

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.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

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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.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press