NEW YORK -- A gaggle of scouts from pitching-needy teams assembled behind the backstop at Citi Field on Monday night for a matchup between two clubs bound for Nowhereville.
The attraction: Veteran right-handers A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon. Neither is the caliber of a David Price, a Jon Lester or a Cliff Lee, but both are serviceable second-tier starters that could probably help a contending team.
In his final start before Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline, Burnett flopped. He was hit hard in the Phillies’ 7-1 loss to the New York Mets (see Instant Replay).
“Just a brutal effort,” said Burnett, who allowed eight hits, five for extra bases, as his record fell to 6-10 with a 4.15 ERA in 23 starts.
Colon, 41, carried a shutout into the eighth inning before the Phillies scored their only run of the game on back-to-back doubles by Domonic Brown and Carlos Ruiz.
The Phillies had 13 hits (four each by Ruiz and Marlon Byrd) on the night, but just two extra-base hits. They left 12 men on base.
“The big hit,” manager Ryne Sandberg lamented. “The extra-base hit with men on base to score multiple runs. That’s something that has lacked.”
The Phils have played 106 games and scored two or fewer runs in 40 of them. Only San Diego has scored two or fewer runs in more games (51).
Scouts from Toronto, Kansas City and St. Louis were all in attendance. All are looking for a starting pitcher.
After this one, Colon, owed $11 million for next season, might be more attractive to those teams than Burnett, who has a player option that could be worth as much as $12.75 million next season, depending on how many starts he ends up making this season.
Unlike teammate Jonathan Papelbon, who can’t wait to get out of Philadelphia, Burnett is not eager to move on.
“This is my team,” he has said of the Phillies several times in recent weeks.
After his final start before the deadline, Burnett made it clear he was in no mood to talk about a possible trade.
“I have no clue [what’s going to happen],” he said. “I don’t like to talk about it. As soon as I hear talk about it, I walk the other way. I don’t want to be around it. I focus on today, the game that’s ahead of us, not where we could end up or what could happen.”
If the Phillies are able to make a deal before Thursday, outfielder Byrd and reliever Antonio Bastardo probably stand the best chance to go. Byrd, who had four singles, is still coveted by Seattle, but the Mariners would have to guarantee his $8 million option for 2016 to get him. Bastardo had a rough homestand, but there are still enough teams looking for relievers that he could go. But he certainly didn't help his value with his poor work at home.
As for Lee and Cole Hamels. Well, Lee probably hasn’t shown enough in two starts off the disabled list to have top value. He could still be an August waiver deal. Hamels is available -- he, along with every other Phillie, has been for weeks -- but the Phils want a huge haul for him.
After Monday night’s game, Sandberg was asked what he considered the greater need going forward, starting pitching or offense.
“Overall, I think you need starting pitching to compete,” he said. “Generally speaking, good pitching with defense can give you a chance.”
Read into this comment and you can see the skipper favors keeping Hamels. That is the organization’s mindset, as well: Build around Hamels -- unless some team blooooows you away.
Burnett threw 131 pitches in his previous start, but said that had nothing to do with his problems on Monday night.
“Everything was flat, up, no life,” he said of his pitches.
Burnett had a lot of trouble keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate. That’s a recipe for hard-hit balls and the Mets had several. They had three doubles on their way to scoring four times in the first inning. Travis d’Arnaud belted a three-run homer with two outs in the fifth.
“We dug ourselves an early hole,” Sandberg said.
The manager has said that a lot this season. And chances are he will again before it's all over.