Help Us, A.J. Burnett, You’re Our Only Hope


Jul 25, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) throws during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

News broke yesterday that free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett is planning on playing in 2014, and that he is willing to sign somewhere other than Pittsburgh.  Entering the offseason, the general consensus was that Burnett was either going to retire or re-sign with the Pirates, but it appears that he is now entertaining other offers.

This is an intriguing development for the Phillies who have two excellent pitchers at the front of their rotation, and a few viable candidates for the fourth and fifth slots.  What they don’t have is a starter who could serve as a viable third starter in a major league rotation. There were several available free agents who might have been decent fits, but based on the quotes by Ruben Amaro, the team didn’t think they were enough of an upgrade to be worth the money and commitment it would take to sign them.

Having passed up the free agents, the Phillies were apparently hoping at least one of the following happens:

  • Kyle Kendrick pitches the entire season like he did in the first half of 2013. (It’s possible, but it’s more likely he has another inconsistently mediocre season.)
  • Jonathan Pettibone outperforms his modest pedigree. (Or he could regress from a decently good rookie season.)
  • Roberto Hernandez pitches like it was 2010 and he was still known as Fausto Carmona. (Advanced stats say that it could happen.  Then again, so could another ice age.)
  • Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez turns out to be the stud he was originally thought to be before the Phillies’ doctors took a good look at him.  (I was originally optimistic about MAG, but the Phillies lack of enthusiasm worries me.)

None of this has caused much hope for Phillies fans.  If you look at the lineup hard enough, you could kind of picture it performing well, but it’s really tough to envision a team making the playoffs with Kyle Kendrick as the third best starter.  Therefore, it seemed like a gift from above when Burnett became available.  He may not be a star, but he is an ideal fit for the Phillies for the following reasons:

  • Despite his advanced age, his strikeout numbers are still high.  (He led the NL in K/9 last season)
  • The Pirates didn’t make him a qualifying offer so he will not require giving up a compensatory draft pick.
  • Based on his advanced age and uncertainty about how long he wants to keep playing, he probably wouldn’t require more than a two-year deal.
  • He has family on the East Coast and apparently wants to sign with a team in the area.
  • His agent is Darek Braunecker (Cliff Lee‘s agent) who has a good relationship with the Phillies.

Of course just because a player seems like a good fit, doesn’t mean that he’ll necessarily end up here.  There are a few other teams that would also like to have Burnett.  The Pirates haven’t ruled out re-signing him, the Orioles are thought to be interested, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that the Braves or Nationals could also get involved.  There has been speculation whether the Phillies are even able to sign him and adhere to their goal of staying under the luxury tax threshold, although I suspect that if the Phillies want it to happen, they could find a way.

Burnett may not be a star, and I doubt that he is the missing piece that would put the Phillies in the playoff picture, but if you’re holding out any hope of the Phillies upgrading their rotation before Spring Training, Burnett is likely the only chance they have.