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Burnett will fit right in with seasoned Phils

Adding right-hander to veteran core could put Philly over the top and into playoffs

The Phillies are going to love A.J. Burnett.

First, they can pencil Burnett in for 32 starts, 200 innings and 189 strikeouts. He'll take the ball every fifth day and go deep into games. Burnett pitched at least seven innings 15 times last season. He wasn't always perfect, but he'll do his part to keep the bullpen rested.

Burnett has a touch of ornery, too. He doesn't like to lose and is not shy about showing it. In the course of a long season, Burnett is capable of being a wake-up call in tough times.

Burnett just celebrated his 37th birthday last month, but given his work ethic and durability -- he has averaged 200 innings the past six seasons -- there's no reason to think he doesn't still have something left in the tank. He had a 3.30 ERA in 191 innings for the Pirates last season, and his 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings was the best in the National League.

In a rotation that already has Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, Burnett extends the depth and quality of the Phillies' starters. For a club in a win-now mode, he's a nice finishing touch to the offseason.

OK, I know what some of you are saying. "Oh great, the Phillies get another old guy." Right. The Phils are not a young team. This is no news flash. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Lee, Mike Adams and Marlon Byrd are all 35. Ryan Howard is 34.

Big deal. It's going to be these old guys who decide how far Philadelphia will go this season. And it's these old guys who've led this franchise for a decade. These old guys have changed the way people think about this franchise. The Phillies won the NL East five straight times from 2007-11. Along the way, they filled almost every seat at Citizens Bank Park and made the atmosphere loud and raucous and as good as any in baseball.

Around the game, these old guys were known not just for producing, but for competing hard every single day. In the long history of the Phils, these old guys are going to be as highly regarded as any era of the past.

And the truth is that none of us know how good those guys can still be. Howard has played 151 games the past two seasons. He hit just .173 against left-handed pitching in both 2012 and '13.

The Phillies were a bad offensive team in 2013 -- 13th in the NL in runs, 14th in walks, ninth in home runs -- and they desperately need another big season from their big guy. Let's just say the Phils are hopeful. Howard is again healthy, and he could change the look of that lineup.

Likewise for Rollins. He's in his free-agent year and beginning his 15th season with Philadelphia. In those 15 years, Rollins has been about as entertaining and as productive as any player they've had.

Rollins is coming off a season in which he had 36 doubles, 59 walks and 22 stolen bases. He has batted only .251 the past two seasons, but if he repeats his 2013 numbers in '14 and if Howard does his thing, the Phillies could be dramatically better on offense.

Yes, they're old. They didn't get any younger this offseason with the signings of Byrd and Ruiz. That's not the point. The Phils are committed to this core group. Howard, Lee, Hamels, Utley and closer Jonathan Papelbon are all signed through 2015.

The Phillies long ago made a commitment to keep the guys who'd helped them finish first five straight years together. Who can argue with that? What was the alternative? To give them gold watches and wish them well? What message would that have sent to the fans buying all those tickets?

Franchises don't have windows of opportunity like this very often, and everything general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did this offseason was about keeping the band together for one more run.

In a perfect world, there would be a generation of younger players from the farm system on the way to push and relieve the older guys. But player development is cyclical, too, and these past few years haven't been great for the Phils.

So Amaro did the best he could to work around the edges. He traded for 25-year-old center fielder Ben Revere a year ago and got an All-Star season out of 26-year-old left fielder Domonic Brown in 2013.

Amaro re-signed Ruiz and added Byrd this winter, and now he has added Burnett. All in all, it was a very good offseason and it made the NL East race more interesting.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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