The revelation that veteran righthander A.J. Burnett intends to pitch in 2014 will not send shockwaves through the industry because many top free-agent pitchers remain unsigned. But Burnett comes with special interest to the Phillies, who have liked the 37-year-old pitcher in the past and possess a need for a mid-rotation starter.
Burnett will test the market, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report. He posted a 3.30 ERA in 30 starts for the Pirates and anchored one of the most surprising rotations in baseball. If signed by the Phillies, he would slot behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee to strengthen a rotation shrouded in mystery.
There are connections between the Phillies and Burnett. His agent is Darek Braunecker, the same man who represents Lee. Burnett is neighbors and close family friends with Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock. Braunecker and Proefrock have a strong working relationship.
The internal dilemma for the Phillies is whether a high-priced acquisition of Burnett launches them firmly into contention or just slightly moves the needle for a team that won 73 games in 2013 and added around the edges of its roster this winter.
Burnett would provide the Phillies with another strikeout pitcher; his 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings led the National League in 2013. He has made at least 30 starts in his last six seasons, although he did not thrive until leaving the American League East.
Pittsburgh did not make Burnett a $14.1 million qualifying offer. He earned $16.5 million in 2013. He is expected to seek employment close to his Monkton, Md., home. At first, Burnett said he would pitch for the Pirates in 2014 or retire. Baltimore, another team with reported interest, could outbid the field.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday he did not have any current major-league offers to free agents. That, of course, could change with a development such as this. Ownership, Amaro said last week, authorized a pursuit of Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, but the Phillies were unwilling to match his lucrative demands.
Tanaka, Amaro insinuated, was an exception. He is not fond of Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo — at least not their asking prices. Burnett, though, could be attractive on a one-year contract.
The Phillies' payroll is approximately $173 million when calculated for luxury tax purposes, although final tallies are not made until the conclusion of the season and dependent on accrued disabled-list time. The threshold for paying tax is $189 million.
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