It is less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report in Clearwater, and the Philadelphia Phillies could still afford to make some improvements to their roster. One area in particular that could use some help is the starting rotation, as the options after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are not that great. At this point in the offseason there often are not too many options teams can add to vastly improve their rosters. However, the Phillies have the opportunity to do just that before spring training begins. They can do this by signing pitcher A.J. Burnett, who recently said that he intended to pitch in 2014 after mulling retirement.
Burnett is a really good fit for the Phillies who are in need of pitchers, and he also is reportedly looking to stay near his Baltimore area home. It sounds like a good match between the player and team for those circumstances, but it goes beyond that. Burnett is a great groundball pitcher, finishing 2013 with a ground-ball rate of 56.7%, which was second-best in the majors to Trevor Cahill. This along with his ability to strike out batters, with K/9 rate of 9.8 last season, makes Burnett a good fit to pitch in the hitter friendly Citizens Bank Park.
Burnett went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA last year with Pittsburgh, serving as a key member of a rotation that led the Pirates to a winning season and the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons. Since returning to the National League, Burnett has enjoyed better success than his last few years in the AL. For the first time since 2007, Burnett’s ERA dropped under four when he joined the Pirates in 2012. On top of this, Burnett has started at least 30 games a season since 2008, and has won at least 10 games going back to 2004.
However, not everything is perfect for this deal to happen. Considering that Burnett wishes to remain close to Baltimore, he will likely demand a no-trade clause, which the Phillies do not grant besides partial ones such as the one Jimmy Rollins has. The front office should be willing to give Burnett the partial no-trade clause as they’re in need of quality starting pitchers. Another question is how much it will cost to sign Burnett, who made $16.5 million last season, with the Yankees paying $8.5 million. He most likely will not sign for less, but if the Phillies add Burnett to their over $160 million payroll, they will still be under the luxury tax threshold.
The Phillies have to consider whether or not it is worth paying so much for Burnett if they possibly do not contend. Since he will most likely want at least a partial no-trade clause, it would be hard to move Burnett if the Phils are not contending by the time July rolls around, despite a starting pitcher being an attractive piece around the trade deadline. At the same time, adding Burnett could increase the chances that the Phillies are still in contention around the trade deadline.
There are also the implications that Burnett’s addition could alter the team’s projected starting rotation. Since Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez both signed to be starters, then Miguel Alfredo González is most likely to be the odd man out. He has not pitched competitively in over two years and never in the MLB. Due to this he may serve better as a bullpen arm in order to gain more experience before starting. At that point the Phillies rotation would look like this:
- Cole Hamels
- Cliff Lee
- A.J. Burnett
- Kyle Kendrick
- Roberto Hernandez
This gives the team a rotation of veterans with more concrete expectations than the unknown of Miguel Alfredo González. In the end, adding Burnett just makes too much sense if the Phillies wish to contend this season.