Forget the money. Forget that a qualifying offer wasn't made. Disengage from debating how much A.J. Burnett is worth.

Ask this question instead: Do the Pirates need Burnett in 2014?

Yes, they do. Absolutely.

A.J. Burnett had a career-best ERA. He led the National League in both strikeouts per nine innings and ground ball/fly ball ratio, an amazing and rare double. He only won 10 games, yeah – but it's funny how the same #BUCN Sabermetric geeks that say “wins don’t count anymore” use exactly that stat to vilify Burnett.

If Burnett leaves or retires, who takes his place in the Pirates rotation?

Jeff Locke? His ERA was 6.12 after the All-Star break.

Jameson Taillon? He's pitched zero big-league innings, and exactly 37 above the Class AA level.

Wandy Rodriguez? He didn't pitch after June 5 due to elbow and forearm problems.

Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole ought to be the core of the Pirates' rotation. Charlie Morton is a reliable No. 4. One of the question marks should come through as a No. 5.

If Burnett leaves or retires, the trickle-up probably won't yield much good.

The Pirates need Burnett. That seems undeniable.

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