Ruben Amaro recently indicated that the Phillies will not add any pieces prior to spring training. But that was before word spread last week that A.J. Burnett has opted to pitch for at least one more season.
The word is that the Phillies and the Orioles are kicking Burnett’s tires. Both teams could use a solid starting pitcher and Burnett would prefer to remain close to his Baltimore-area home.
Sure, Burnett, 37, is old but he would be an ideal fit for the Phillies. He’s a right-handed horse, who strikes out hitters when he’s not inducing ground balls. Since Burnett nearly retired, he might be content with a one-year deal, which would be perfect for the Phillies.
If you put stock in what he said last season when his Pirates played the Phillies, he would be happy to pitch at Citizens Bank Park.
“I’ve always liked pitching here,” Burnett said. “If you keep the ball down, you can have success here. And then there are the fans, who are tremendous. I remember pitching here (with the Yankees) during the (2009) World Series. They’re into every pitch. It’s a great environment in Philadelphia.”
But will the Phillies pay for a significant player at this point? They’re about $20 million under the $189 Million cap but Amaro has indicated that the organization would rather not pass the $170 million mark.
“But if the Phillies really want to make a run at the playoffs next season, signing Burnett could change everything,” a NL scout said. “If Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee pitch the way you would expect and you add A.J. Burnett, then that’s a formidable rotation. If you have three solid starters and if they hit better than last year and their bullpen bounces back, they could be in contention. Burnett would be a big help for the Phillies.”
Burnett, who was 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA over the last two seasons with the Pirates, led all National League pitchers in strikeout rate and ground out rate.
“Those numbers don’t lie,” the NL scout said. “He would be an asset.”
If Burnett signs and the Phillies fail to make a run, he would most likely be a valuable trade chip at the trade deadline.
The odds are that Amaro, who makes no secret that he covets strong starting pitching, is intrigued about the possibility of adding Burnett. But will the organization sign off on the pricey acquisition? The Phillies biggest offseason splurge was signing, Carlos Ruiz, will make $8.5 million a season.
Burnett made $16.5 million last season. “The old line, you have to spend money to make money,’ comes to mind,” the NL scout said. “They’ll probably sell many more tickets with Burnett since his signing should translate to wins.”
There could be a significant ripple effect should the Phillies pull the trigger on Burnett. The wildcard that is Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez could move to the bullpen. There would be less pressure for the Cuban pitcher, who hasn’t pitched competitively in two years. Also, it could potentially help the beleaguered backend of the bullpen.