Reacting to the calendar and the apparent lack of communication between the Pirates' front office and A.J. Burnett, Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage's latest expectation is that the right-hander is "gonna retire."
In a Thursday morning interview on Pittsburgh's 93.7 radio, Searage said he personally has reached "the point that he's not gonna come back. I've got to prepare my guys to pitch with no A.J."
"I'm leaning that way. That he's gonna retire," Searage added.
Searage stressed that he had no new information on the mindset of Burnett, who in the wake of arguably the best of his 15 seasons (3.30 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings) is considering retiring, swapping pitching for family time.
"We're still waiting," Searage said.
That puts the respected pitching coach in the same situation as Burnett's teammates and boss.
A few hours prior to Searage's radio comments, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said he was still "going through the process" with Burnett.
"I have nothing but respect for how challenging and difficult a decision like this is for a professional athlete," Huntington said. "[Burnett] has the financial ability to stay home. But, really, there is no going back."
As Huntington noted, Burnett is at a crossroad many ballplayers reach. In fact, Don Mattingly alluded to the exact same conflict on Wednesday, across the continent from Burnett's Monkton, Md., home.
Speaking to reporters after agreeing to a contract extension as Dodgers manager, Mattingly recalled his "decision that I wasn't going to keep playing because I wanted to be around my boys … I did the right thing."
Also worn down by back problems, Mattingly had retired following the 1995 season. He was 34.
Burnett turned 37 last week. Huntington is believed to have given him an undisclosed deadline -- but also space, and within that space Burnett's decision has become a bit more complicated.
It started out as Pirates-or-retirement. But landing in the sights of pitching-shopping teams closer to his home -- thus possibly offering a more appealing way to prolong his career -- may have presented Burnett with more options.
That development may have also given him more bargaining power. The Pirates' only offer to Burnett, made weeks ago, was believed to be for $9 million -- enough to make him the team's highest-paid (a status now belonging to lefty Wandy Rodriguez at $8.5 million), but considerably below market value.
Money may ultimately play a bigger role in Burnett's destination than geography. Baltimore (20 miles from Monkton), Washington (52) and Philadelphia (76) are all closer to his home, but Pittsburgh (189) isn't exactly the outland by comparison.
The perception is no one in Pittsburgh wants to pressure Burnett and risk it backfiring into resentment. Not Huntington, not Searage, not teammates.
Shortstop Jordy Mercer says he has regularly talked to Burnett during the offseason, but not about his status.
"I don't go there. It''s his whole decision, and we're all just waiting to see what he will do," Mercer said. "I want him back. We all want him back. We think he can still do it, and he knows that as well. It comes down to whether he wants to do it."
"He's got two young boys, and they're awesome," Searage said. "I can see how they can tug at your heart. But he's a warrior who wants to be out there. We've given him the time he needs, but when the limit's up ... we'll have to go from there."
The Bucs' offseason rotation makeover has been limited to the signing of another free-agent bounce-back candidate, Edinson Volquez, but Huntington again asserted that the Burnett situation has not been an impediment.
"It has not hindered anything we wanted to do," Huntington said. "We've been able to remain patient. We remain very hopeful he is going to return to pitch for Pittsburgh, but continue to operate as if he's not."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.