For much of the winter, the assumption was that A.J. Burnett would either return to the Pittsburgh Pirates for another year, or he would retire. That all went out the window two weeks ago when Burnett announced he would pitch in 2014 and he would test the open market. Now Burnett will be spending 2014 in Philadelphia after agreeing to a one-year, $16 million deal with the Phillies today.
Burnett landing in Philly seemed unlikely as recently as five days ago, when GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said he didn't expect to do anything else this offseason and wanted to see what they had in spring training. Of course, today's news of Cole Hamels not being ready for the start of the season thanks to tendinitis may have changed things a bit for Amaro and the Phillies.
The 37-year-old righty is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, helping lead the Pirates to their first postseason appearance since 1992. Pittsburgh declined to give Burnett a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason, which would have put them on the hook for $14 million if he accepted the deal. Now that Burnett signed on with the Phillies for just $2 million more, the Pirates are both without one of their best starters from last year and without any draft pick compensation. The savvy acquisition of Burnett (and getting the Yankees to pay a significant portion of his salary the past two seasons) was a big part of the Pirates' recent turnaround. Now they're left scrambling to fill Burnett's hole in the rotation.
Burnett figures to be the Phillies' #3 starter behind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels when the latter is healthy. While adding Burnett certainly makes the rotation better, it likely won't make the team that much better overall. Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections had the Phils at 76-86 for this year. If you believe in that projection, even if Burnett can repeat his 2013 performance, it likely won't be enough to get Philadelphia to .500.