In the wake of Derek Jeter deciding 2014 would be his final year in pinstripes, former Yankee pitcher A.J Burnett has decided to continue his career by signing a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Burnett, who spent the better part of the offseason contemplating retirement, is signed for the 2014 season for a reported $16 million.
The 37 year-old right handed pitcher spent the past two seasons across the state in Pittsburgh, where he went 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA and 389 strikeouts. Burnett also helped Pittsburgh reach the playoffs for the first time in 21 years as the Pirates were one of the big surprises of the 2013 baseball season. In contrast, the Phillies are coming off one of their more disappointing seasons in recent memory by finishing fourth in the NL East with a record of 73-89. Their starting rotation also took a hit this offseason when Roy Halladay retired after 16 seasons. The move from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia is a bit of a head scratcher, especially since Burnett is at the tail-end of his career.
The Pirates have one of the more promising offenses in baseball led by 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. In addition to their All-Star center fielder, the Pirates have Neil Walker, Russell Martin, and Gaby Sanchez leading the offense in a stacked, but certainly winnable, National League Central.
The Phillies, on the other hand, have an offense that is full of questions and holes. Ryan Howard is coming off back-to-back seasons where he only managed to play half of the games due to injury, most recently a torn meniscus that sidelined him for the final two months of the season. The former All-Stars, who led the Phillies to a 2008 World Series Championship, are also succumbing to the inevitable father time. Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are entering the season all being 34 years or older, with Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz also in the same age group. The only returning starters from last season, who are under the age of 30, are Ben Revere and Domonic Brown, but neither player is a proven offensive talent who could lead the Phillies back to championship form.
Burnett is joining a Phillies pithing staff with just as many questions as their offense. When Hallady retired in early December, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee took over as the leaders of the Phillies starting rotation. However, on the same day that Burnett signs with the Phillies, the team announced that Hamels would not be ready for the opening game of the season because the left-hander is still nursing shoulder tendonitis.
As Lee enters year four of his five year contract worth $120 million, the Phillies will have to decide what is best for the future of their team. If the Phillies fall behind in a very strong National League East, they may look to move Lee by the All-Star break. The 35 year old left-hander is no stranger to mid-season moves as he has been traded twice at the trade deadline in 2009 and 2010.
Not many people predicted the Pirates to make the playoffs last season, nor did many predict the Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano to have the great seasons they did. The 23 year-old Cole went 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA in 19 starts during his rookie season. Liriano won Comeback Player of the Year in 2013 after going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and 163 strikeouts. With Burnett, Lirano, and Cole, the Pirates were the third best pitching staff in 2013 with 94 team wins, an ERA of 3.26 and a combined opponents’ batting average of just .238 in over 1,470 innings pitched (according to mlb.com)
The Pirates certainly appear to be better team going into 2014 and the team that gives Burnett a better chance of winning his third World Series. But Burnett will once again suit up in pinstripes, this time red, in what could be his final season in the majors.