Analyzing the A.J. Burnett-Phillies rumors

Analyzing the A.J. Burnett-Phillies rumors
January 29, 2014, 2:00 pm
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A.J. Burnett led the NL in strikeout rate in 2013, and has the majors' second-highest groundball rate the last two seasons. (USA Today Images)

The Phillies are being mentioned as having interest in free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett, and the connection makes sense.

The Phils looked into Burnett earlier this winter when the 37-year-old right-hander was still undecided about whether to continue his career in 2014.

Earlier this week, word spread that Burnett intended to pitch, and Philadelphia was quickly mentioned as a possible destination.

The Phillies would make sense -- for both parties. The team is in need of starting pitching depth, and Burnett, who performed well and enjoyed his time in Pittsburgh the last two seasons, reportedly prefers to stay relatively close to his Baltimore-area home.

The plusses of adding Burnett are apparent. He’s a durable veteran who gets ground balls and registers strong strikeout totals. He’d be a big right-handed arm to complement lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

But would adding Burnett be the right move for a team that’s already old? Would he require a multi-year contract? Would he require no-trade protection?

Burnett made $16.5 million last season, with the Yankees picking up $8.5 million of the tab. After making 61 starts and posting a 3.41 ERA the last two seasons, it’s difficult to imagine Burnett taking much less than $16.5 million to pitch in 2014. (Note: The Phillies’ top signing this winter, in terms of average salary, was $8.5 million to Carlos Ruiz.)

The Phillies’ payroll for 2014 projects to be over $160 million. They could take on Burnett and stay under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million. But $189 million isn’t the number that Phillies management has been paying attention to this winter. At the winter meetings, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said the 2014 payroll would resemble the 2013 payroll, which was about $165 million. Would the Phillies blow past that number after suffering a drop in attendance last year and possibly facing another this year? Might they be better off seeing how things go with their current starters and saving some budgetary flexibility for the trade deadline, just in case they are in the hunt and need a piece or two? Of course, signing Burnett would improve the chances of being in the hunt.

If the Phillies were to sign Burnett and fall from contention in July, he could be an attractive arm for a contending team -- if he had trade flexibility. His desire to pitch close to home might show up in the form of a no-trade or partial no-trade demand. The Phillies only give partial no-trade clauses. From this view, having some trade flexibility is a must with Burnett. He might get more protection elsewhere.

These are just a few thoughts to keep in mind before the Burnett rumors reach a boil.