Honestly, I can actually say that I saw this one coming. Not to “toot my own horn” or anything, but I called the Philadelphia Phillies signing AJ Burnett just after he announced that he planned to pitch in 2014. In a previously published article, titled Could the Phillies be Burnett’s Third Suitor?, on January 30, 2014, I wrote:
“Also possibly throwing their hat in the ring for Burnett are the, out of nowhere, Philadelphia Phillies. With a fifth spot left open in their rotation ready to be fought for at spring training, the Phillies could fill that role with Burnett, a proven starter and workhorse…Burnett could fit in not only as their much-needed reliable fifth starter, he could end up in the number two role to break up lefties Lee and Hamels.”
It appears that my prediction has come to fruition. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that Burnett, 37, had reached an agreement on a one-year, $16 million deal with Philadelphia.
Burnett had been mulling retirement for most of the off season until late January. When the announcement came out that he was not going to retire, most baseball fans and critics thought he would end up with the Baltimore Orioles. Burnett does reside in Maryland and the Orioles definitely could have used another proven, seasoned starter.
The other club reportedly in pursuit of Burnett at the time was the Tampa Bay Rays according to a tweet by Peter Gammons on January 30, 2013,
@pgammo Orioles “all in” on AJ Burnett, Rays in, early in process
Since then the right-hander had also been linked to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who he played for in 2012 and 2013. He told reporters at the end of last season that he would most likely return to the Pirates as a free agent or retire. When he announced that he would pitch again, he made it clear that the team needed to be relatively close to his Maryland home. Philadelphia certainly fits that bill.
This signing couldn’t have come at a better time for the Phillies. Just Tuesday, the team’s ace, LHP Cole Hamels, told reporters that he will not be ready to start on opening day due to bicep tendinitis. He did say he remained confident that he would be able to pitch sometime in April.
Burnett is a perfect fit for the Phillies. Joining Hamels and Cliff Lee at the top of the rotation, Burnett will be able to break up the two lefties and provide extra stability in the rotation, especially now after Hamels’ announcement. He also joins RHP Kyle Kendrick in the rotation. The fifth spot will likely go to Miguel Gonzalez who signed a three year, $12 million contract in October. Gonzalez is not a lock for the fifth spot however. Roberto Hernandez, Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin all have a legitimate chance to prove themselves in spring training and make the starting rotation.
Burnett who went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA last season with the Pirates, also led National League starters in strikeout and ground ball rates which would work well in Philadelphia’s home run friendly ballpark. He also led Pirates’ starters with 191 innings pitched. Over his 15-year career Burnett is 147-132 with a 3.99 ERA in 2,353.2 total innings.