Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Money Talks, AJ Philadelphia

Well, one long-running soap opera has ended. The AJ "he loves me, he loves me not..." drama has been resolved by a reported $16M, one year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

AJ, 37, should feel at home in the Philadelphia locker room; a quick count shows that the Phils have made Burnett the 11th player that's over 30 to earn a roster spot on the club, and that's the biggest surprise to us regarding his signing. Philly is an old team that instead of going young dropped some serious coin on a perhaps one-and-done pitcher. Of course, the Phils really like experience; Ruben Amaro also snatched up Marlon Byrd, 36, inking him to a two-year contract.

Burnett had an in there, too. His agent, Darek Braunecker, represents Cliff Lee, and DB got the Phillies to fork over $120M for Lee. So AJ had his man ready to profitably parlay in Philly.

Burnett signed for just about book value with maybe a cherry on top. The Pirates lowballed him, and their tact was apparent right from the git-go, when they didn't offer him a $14.1M qualifier. He probably would have taken that deal, which is why the Pirates didn't offer it.

The FO wasn't worried about the draft pick in the least because he would never be offered a contract this rich if the loss of a first-round pick was attached to the signing. If he was to return to the fold, it would be on the Pirates' terms, not his.

The question at the crux is whether AJ has reinvented himself sufficiently to slot as a number two or three pitcher - and his K rate, grounder rate and sinker velocity speak well of his stuff - or whether age is going to send him down that inevitable hill. The Fangraph projections have him performing at about a 3.0 WAR in 2014, which is plenty solid. Then again, the only 37 year old mound geezers to post 3+ WAR since 2008 are Hiroki Kuroda (twice), R.A. Dickey, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Randy Johnson & Bartolo Colon.

His erratic August and September performances - AJ gave up four runs or more in five starts, and two or less in the other six - brought his consistency into question. He missed a month with a calf strain, which brought his durability into question.

Burnett's public spats with Bucco on-field management certainly didn't endear him to the brass. Ask Clint Barmes what AJ thinks of infield shifts. And very early in the process, the FO made it quite clear that they weren't ready to pony up a sizable chunk of their budget for a guy that works once every fifth day, which may be a concern not very many seasons down the road when Gerritt Cole, Jameson Taillon and company get into arbitration.

We appreciate the effort AJ made in helping turn the Bucs around the past two years, and we think the rotation would be stronger with him than without. But he and the FO are both stubborn kind of fellows. The management dared him to find a better offer, and he did. So time to STFD and move on. At least now that we have a little cushion to spend on a first baseman...

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