PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — So far this Pirates offseason, one name has dominated the headlines, and it’s gotten all the way to Pirates President Frank Coonelly.

“You mean Mr. Burnett?” Coonelly said with a chuckle to KDKA-TV Sports. Burnett spurned the Pirates contract offers this winter before signing a one-year, $16 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. “A.J. had two really good years here and was so helpful to us. We thank him for his service.”

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But the Pirates could have had his services for at least another season, for not that much more than the reported $12 million they offered him, had they given Burnett a qualifying offer of $14.1 million. Had the Pirates done that, they would have received a first-round draft pick if Burnett signed with another team.

“We had decided that it wasn’t appropriate for us to offer a $14.1 million offer for A.J.,” Coonelly said, “and if you make an offer like that, the player has the right to accept it. So we weren’t looking to try to get a draft choice by making an offer and hoping A.J. wouldn’t accept it. That’s a risky business. So we had made a decision that we wanted A.J. back, but given our roster composition, $14.1 million was not an appropriate figure and obviously A.J. found a suitor out there that was willing to pay more.”

That roster composition is one that not only lost Burnett, but Justin Morneau, Garrett Jones and Marlon Byrd, who cost the pirates about $15 million, and has added only Edinson Volquez and backup catcher Chris Stewart for $6 million. Which begs the question: Are the Pirates planning on spending some of that money saved on this year’s team?

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“The great thing about not having a lot of turnover,” Coonelly said, “is that you have a good solid core who’s coming back so that we don’t have a lot of players that we need to replace. And if the right move is available, we’ve got some flexibility but we’re not going to make a move simply to add payroll dollars. We don’t spend money just to spend money, we spend money to build a championship caliber team.”

Not many Pirate fans view this team right now as a championship caliber team. In fact, many think they’re worse than they were just five months ago at the end of the 2013 season. Coonelly disagrees, and thinks they’re better now.

“No question,” he told KDKA-TV Sports, “and your use of the word ‘now’ is a good one. Now is the time for this team. We learned some lessons last year. We didn’t make our ultimate objective – the objective is to win the World Series championship, hang a sixth banner here in PNC park. There’s no question in my mind given the maturity of this team and given the additions that we’re going to be a better team in 2014.”

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