ATLANTA - Another day, another loss, another chance to ponder what it means for the Phillies' outlook between now and the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
The man on the mound Friday night is a pitcher they should be highly motivated to move. Theoretically, righthander A.J. Burnett could return to the club next season by way of a player option. But he contemplated retirement last year, and he has said the only reason he signed with the Phillies was a chance to compete. Which means now might be the only time the organization has a chance to get anything of value for him.
Burnett did not help his value in the 6-4 loss to the Braves. After the Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the second on a sacrifice fly by Cody Ashce and a single by Cameron Rupp, Burnett allowed four runs in the bottom of the frame. He finished five innings, allowed six runs and saw his ERA rise to 4.08.
The question is whether Burnett, who has been pitching for much of the season with a hernia, offers a significant enough upgrade to warrant a team parting with a prospect. Burnett has a no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to an unknown number of teams. The 37-year-old veteran has prioritized pitching near his Maryland home. Two nearby teams could be interested in adding him to their rotation, including the Pirates, whom he helped lead to the postseason last year.
Burnett's strikeout numbers aren't what they once were, and he walks batters at an above-average rate. But he logs innings (136 2/3 over 21 starts), and he can run off a hot streak. In his seven starts heading into last night, he had a 2.94 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 16 walks in 52 innings. In his first nine starts of the season, he posted a 3.13 ERA with 45 strikeouts and 26 walks in 54 2/3 innings.
The question is, does he offer enough of an upgrade to warrant a team parting with a prospect? The Orioles are another potential landing spot, but Burnett's 4.08 ERA is in the same neighborhood as Chris Tillman (4.11), Wei-Yin Chen (4.15), Bud Norris (3.96), Miguel Gonzalez (4.04) and rookie Kevin Gausman (3.29).
The Pirates have Charlie Morton (3.32) and Edinson Volquez (3.65), while Francisco Liriano (4.72) isn't going anywhere, while the club is still hoping to get Gerrit Cole back sometime in early August. Vance Worley and Jeff Locke also are doing solid jobs at the back of the rotation. That's not to say the Pirates could not use a veteran such as Burnett, but at 49-46 and in fourth place in the NL Central heading into Friday, will Burnett move the needle enough to warrant an investment? The Pirates might be in go-big-or-stand-pat territory.
Would Burnett consider a return to the Blue Jays, who could use at least one starter? The Dodgers could use another starter, but does Burnett want to play on the West Coast? Same goes for the Angels.
A lot depends on how the top of the pitching market shakes out, with the Rays' David Price destined to move to one of a number of contenders who are actively pursuing him. The Red Sox could still shop free-agent-to-be Jon Lester. The Padres will almost certainly listen on Ian Kennedy. And the Phillies are holding out hope that Cliff Lee will be pursued, although that is a longshot. Any negotiations revolving around Burnett are likely to go down to the wire, so expect him in a Phillies uniform for at least two more starts.
In the meantime, the Phillies still have games to play. Friday night, they managed one extra-base hit, a double by Chase Utley in the sixth after Jimmy Rollins was safe at first on an error by first baseman Freddie Freeman. Ryan Howard followed with a single to drive in both.
The Phillies hope that catcher Carlos Ruiz can return at some point during next week's homestand, although they will continue to take a cautious approach with his concussion. Ruiz made his first rehab appearance on Thursday, catching five innings of a game at Class A Clearwater . . . Backup catcher Wil Nieves (quadriceps), rehabbing at Double A Reading, is close to a return. Rookie Cameron Rupp made his 14th start behind the plate, contributing an RBI single.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy