Phillies finalize one-year deal with Burnett
Contract worth $16 million plus bonuses for righty, who solidifies top of rotation
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett drove up Sunday morning to Bright House Field with a boat hitched to the back of his pickup truck.
He guided the rig around the ballpark with a horde of photographers in pursuit, unhitched the boat, parked the truck, grabbed his Pirates equipment bag and strolled to the Phillies clubhouse. His new teammates watched while they stretched on Mike Schmidt Field at Carpenter Complex. Marlon Byrd, who played with Burnett last season in Pittsburgh, shouted hello. Jimmy Rollins, who played against Burnett for years, simply watched and smiled.
"A beautiful thing," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's the belated Christmas present and Valentine's Day present that I've been waiting for. A little late, but I'll take it."
The Phillies announced Burnett, 37, has signed a one-year, $16 million contract, which includes a $15 million salary for 2014, plus a $1 million buyout on a mutual option for 2015. If the mutual option is exercised, he will make $15 million in 2015. Burnett also has a player option. If he exercises that, he receives $7.5 million. There are escalators in the deal that could increase that salary to $12.75 million based on games started, etc. He can make as much as $33.5 million the next two seasons if the mutual option is exercised and he starts 30 games each of the next two seasons.
There also is a partial no-trade clause, in which Burnett must approve trades to nine specified teams.
"This is the first time in my career I made a decision that wasn't about A.J. Burnett," Burnett said. "It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I'm at home and can still do what I love. And that feels good. It feels good. It was a no-brainer."
Burnett insisted the decision to join the Phillies centered on family, not a deal reportedly worth $4 million more than Pittsburgh's offer, and Citizens Bank Park's proximity to his Maryland home.
He lives about a 1 hour, 30 minutes from Philadelphia.
Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock lives just two miles from Burnett. Proefrock's son, John, and Burnett's son, A.J., are close friends and played together this winter on a recreation league basketball team.
Burnett was the head coach. Proefrock was his assistant.
"We lost five one-point games," Burnett said. "How do you explain it to the kids when they are all bawling?"
Proefrock said he treaded gently concerning Burnett's future in baseball.
"He told me right after the  season he wasn't going to play," Proefrock said. "I didn't really bug him about it at all. I always joked and said, 'Hey, if you change your mind, let me know.' But it wasn't until two or three weeks ago … and I felt really uncomfortable talking to him about it. His agent texted me and said A.J. wanted to talk about Philadelphia. So after one of our games he took his boys home and I went over to his house and spent about an hour and a half talking about Philly and what we had to offer. He had a tough decision to make. He had a lot invested in Pittsburgh."
Burnett said last season if he did not continue his career in Pittsburgh he planned to retire.
"I did not stick to that obviously," he said. "The decision I made took forever because of my family. That would be the reason I wouldn't play, because I've got a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old and a wife, and boys crave their dad at this time in their life. That's one of the reasons why I'm here four days late."
"He's right on time," Sandberg said.
Burnett shares an agent with Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee, although the two never spoke before he agreed to terms. He also is friends with Roy Halladay, who retired in December. Halladay is in camp as a guest instructor. Halladay reached out to Burnett during negotiations, at one point texting him that his house was available in Philadelphia, but they also never spoke.
The Phillies seem ecstatic with his arrival. If everybody is healthy, Burnett projects to slot atop the rotation with Cole Hamels and Lee. Burnett went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 30 starts last season with the Pirates. He led the big leagues in ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio (2.62), which should help at cozy Citizens Bank Park. Burnett also led the National League with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
He has made at least 30 starts for six consecutive seasons.
Burnett's $16 million salary could push the Phillies to a franchise-record payroll following an 89-loss season in 2013. They finished 2012 at a record $174.5 million, according to figures sent from the Commissioner's Office to teams for luxury-tax purposes. That figure includes the average annual value of contracts, more than $10 million for benefits and extended benefits, bonuses and more.
Figure Burnett's $16 million salary into the mix, and the Phils' payroll alone is about $174 million, with the luxury-tax threshold now at $189 million.
"I think more than anything else we had a unique opportunity," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "If you were to tell us what pitchers were going to be available, if he were part of the original mix he probably would have been at the top of the ticket as far as the type of pitcher we were looking for to add to our rotation. We got great backing from our partners and the ownership group in order to make this move at this time. It's obviously late and it's a significant commitment, but it's a commitment that was worth it for our organization because we're trying to win. We're trying to win a World Series. That's our job and we believe we have the players to do that. I think we added to it."
Asked if he has payroll flexibility moving forward, Amaro added, "The season will dictate. The players will let us know what we should do."
The rotation had its share of concerns following Hamels and Lee, and now Hamels is behind schedule after feeling discomfort in his throwing shoulder around Thanksgiving, which resulted in left biceps tendinitis. Hamels said he is not worried, is pain-free and expects to be pitching in a regular-season game in April.
But Kyle Kendrick had a 6.45 ERA in his final 14 starts last season before finishing the campaign on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Roberto Hernandez signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal in December, but he has a 5.19 ERA over 67 appearances (59 starts) the past three seasons. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Jonathan Pettibone and others will also be getting looks as starters this spring. (Pettibone has tightness in his right shoulder and did not throw Sunday.) Sandberg called the No. 5 starter's job an open competition, although Hernandez is the heavy favorite based on his salary and the fact he has no options.
Burnett at least improves the rotation's depth.
"Health seemed to be the thing last year," said Burnett, when asked about joining a team that finished fourth last season in the NL East. "So with guys healthy I think this team can put up against anybody. Then you add the three starters, three top of the line guys we've got, it's an extra two wins a series you plan on taking with those guys you're throwing up every day. So the family was the main decision, but on the other hand I wasn't just going to play to play. I went to an organization that has a history and that obviously does what they want and can do to win."
Burnett will wear No. 34, which Halladay wore the past four seasons. The Phillies planned to hold the jersey for at least the season, but Halladay gave his blessing for Burnett to wear it.
To make room for Burnett on the 40-man roster, left-hander Joe Savery has been designated for assignment.