CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies have said for months they believe they can win if they are healthy.
They have bet big they will.
They drove home that point Sunday when they signed A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $16 million contract, which puts the Phillies in position for a franchise-record payroll. Phillies general partner, president and CEO David Montgomery talked with MLB.com this week about the Burnett deal, the organization's belief it can win and more.
MLB.com: Throughout the offseason, Ruben Amaro Jr. consistently said the payroll would remain about the same as last season. Then Sunday the team announces the Burnett deal, which puts you significantly over that number.
Montgomery: It's often the opportunity that creates the payroll rather than any budget that limits the opportunity. There has been a lot said about what we should and shouldn't do as far as moving on, but the reality is we have commitments to a group of players that we think remain talented and capable of producing a good season for us. And we think the addition of A.J. helps dramatically in that regard.
MLB.com: Ruben also has said repeatedly if everybody is healthy he believes they will win. This deal seems to drive home that point.
Montgomery: We think we have some talented players. We certainly thought we had two very capable top-of-the-rotation people, and A.J. clearly gives us a third. To me it makes our starting pitching that much more of a positive for the club.
MLB.com: So the record the past two seasons didn't make it harder to go forward with it?
Montgomery: We definitely entered the offseason probably with a longer list of needs than we've had in the past. At the same time, by a combination of things, re-signing Chooch [Carlos Ruiz], getting Marlon [Byrd] to join us, our young arms in the bullpen getting exposure last year that hopefully will be to their benefit this year, signing Roberto [Hernandez] then A.J., we've provided much more depth to the rotation. So we think we should be a better club. How much better? I think it has really created a situation where we're probably more anxious than I can remember in a long time to just play games and see where it goes.
MLB.com: That must go into ticket sales. In the past the seats sold themselves, but now it's become a challenge.
Montgomery: We're in a totally different position. We've enjoyed tremendous fan support. We've obviously had two disappointing seasons. Perhaps some people think we're stubborn. We believe with this nucleus and with the additions we've made that we're capable of a much better year than we've had recently. We'll see who's right, but again it just makes you more and more anxious to make impressions.
MLB.com: All the marketing and advertising in the world won't help as much as an 18-10 start in April, right?
Montgomery: That would be phenomenal. People have talked about years when we've had low expectations and surprised people. Obviously the poster child for that is '93. That's exactly what happened to us in '93. We got out to a hot start. The club believed in itself, and as a result of that our fans believed. There's no question we're in a different environment. Our challenge is to convince a very passionate fan base that we're still worthy of their passion.
MLB.com: Did you understand the fans' fascination with the TV contract? They basically just wanted to know, "Will this make the Phillies like the Yankees?"
Montgomery: I think I was a little too close to it to have the fans' perspective on that one. People have to appreciate that we have enjoyed, going way, way, way back, we were one of the early clubs to get any money out of pay TV with PRISM in the '70s. And that our relationship with Comcast since '97 has been a solid one. ... We had said that when we moved into Citizens Bank Park that we thought we would be capable -- with the fan support that we anticipated -- we would have one of the top payrolls in the game. And we've done that. For years and years we've had limitations, primarily in the game-related revenue area at Veterans Stadium. We got out from under that in 2004. The best thing that happened was our fans responded extraordinarily well. We need to keep giving them reasons to believe and support our club.
MLB.com: Have you had a lot of fans stop and ask you about the deal's impact on the team?
Montgomery: As you know, it really kicks in primarily in 2016. We have to at least have people realize that. The answer is, I haven't had that many ask. I've read through people such as yourself that it was the question fans were asking. Comcast is committing to us for 25 years, regardless of what our win-loss record was this year, last year, next year. The good news is they're buying a long enough package of Phillies baseball that they're accepting there will be good cycles and bad as opposed to some concern if we don't get better in '14 we're not going to be able to get the deal we would have otherwise.
MLB.com: Ruben has been answering questions about being on the hot seat after the past two seasons. Is he?
Montgomery: We -- we -- need to do better. That's what I'll say. You know who the "we" is. The "we" hasn't changed. You see them. It's still the input of Pat Gillick. It's still the input of Dallas Green. It's still [special assistant to the GM] Charley Kerfeld. It's still [Major League scouting director] Gordon Lakey. It's still [special assignment scout] Dave Hollins. I don't want to leave names out, but ... we had a bad year. We had a bad year. We hope that we've addressed that. As I've said before, I think we have somebody whose experience working under two general managers served him well and positioned him to be very effective at his job.
MLB.com: What else would you say to skeptical fans out there?
Montgomery: I left Philadelphia on Monday [Feb. 10] and I have great empathy for everybody up there with the weather. I just hope that Phillies baseball gives them the relief that they're hoping for. We are the game that signifies a spring that everybody up there needs. Hopefully we fill that with some pretty exciting baseball.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.