The Philadelphia Phillies and free agent starting pitcher A.J. Burnett agreed to a one-year deal worth $16 million Wednesday. The news comes on the same day star lefty Cole Hamels announced he might not be ready in time for the start of the regular season due to shoulder tendinitis.
Burnett, 37, is coming off a season in which he went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA (his lowest since 2002), and 209 strikeouts in 191 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
His last two seasons in Pittsburgh helped him get back on track in his career after what was considered to be a disastrous 2009-2011 with the New York Yankees where he went 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA.
The Phillies needed to make this move, as their rotation has some question marks around it heading into the 2014 season. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are obvious locks, but pitchers Roberto Hernandez, Kyle Kendrick, and Jonathan Pettibone will be competing for the fourth and fifth starting job.
Burnett will now fit in nicely in the number three spot and will bring even more of a veteran presence to the rotation.
“I have met him quite a few times when he was with Toronto,” Hamels said before news broke about the deal. “He’s got unbelievable talent. Unfortunately, I think he kept us away from another ring [in the 2009 World Series]. What he brings to the table is great. If we’re able to get him, it only helps us out. It doesn’t hurt us. He’s another veteran who has good experience and a good repertoire. I know he is pretty charismatic. He would be good for us.”
Whenever you first look at the price tag, you have to wonder why would the Phillies make this move?
They are already heavily invested into Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Jonathan Papelbon. With Burnett now in the mix at $16 million this season, the Phillies payroll is set to be around $174 million, with the luxury tax now at $189 million.
That’s quite a high amount for a team that is coming off of 89 losses last season.
So why Burnett? The Phillies must feel that they needed to make this move to secure depth in their rotation to stay relevant in their division. The front office must also think that if the team is healthy, they will be able to compete with the powerhouse Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves in the National League East.
The only problem is that the Phillies haven’t been that in quite some time and it might be due to having an older core group of players. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, and Carlos Ruiz are all 35. Ryan Howard is 34. The entire season could depend on the health of these veteran players who haven’t fared well in the health department the last couple seasons.
For example, the most notable key piece that has been missing is first baseman Ryan Howard, who has only played in 151 games over the last two seasons. Imagine if he can finally get back to at least a shell of what he once was during his MVP days.
That would dramatically improve a Phillies team that only ranked 13th in the NL in runs, 14th in walks, and ninth in home runs. They desperately need another big season from their big guy. Let’s just say the Phillies are hopeful. Howard is again healthy, and he could change the look of that lineup.
Now they are hopeful with Burnett in the middle of the pitching mix. Yes, he is no youngster at 37 years old, but he is coming off two fantastic years with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has proven he still knows how to pitch, and how to pitch effectively. When the Phillies are healthy, they will be a much better team than we saw in 2013.
If they can finally stay that way, Burnett in the middle of this rotation makes the Phillies that much more of a threat in the National League East.