In a move most fans didn’t see coming, A.J. Burnett signed a one-year, $16,000,000 contract with the Phils for 2014. Although the Phillies were perceived to be in the mix with Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh, it was thought they were finished making any big moves before Spring Training began.
In a statement made on Monday, 2/11 GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said “We are, as far as doing some small things, we are still looking into some possibilities to shore up our bullpen and maybe give us some more depth in our rotation,” Amaro said. “But as I said before, and I said publicly, I don’t really have an expectation that we’re going to do anything real big.”
We’ve seen Amaro hold his cards close to the vest before so we shouldn’t be shocked at how he played this. What is surprising is that the Phils will butt right up against the luxury tax this year, barring any other pre-season moves. This in a season following a decline in ticket sales by over 550,000 and many estimates of further declines in 2014. It’s like Bizarro Phillies World.
Some would suggest this is insurance against Cole Hamels and the discomfort he’s felt in his shoulder since November. Hamels would not be among that concerned group. The thirty year-old lefty says he’s about a little more than a week behind schedule and won’t be available on Opening Day. Other than maintaining that he’s 8-10 days behind where he normally is this time of year Hamels says he feel great.
It’s not uncommon for a pitcher to feel soreness in their shoulder right before Spring Training, but perhaps the Phils are thinking about what happened last year when Roy Halladay said he too was fine and expected to be 100% for the 2013 season. Is Burnett an insurance policy?
If he is an insurance policy, he’s a damn fine one. Last year Burnett led NL all starters in SO/9 at 9.83 and ground ball rate among qualified starters at 56.5 %. Unlike Jiminez or Santana, the other big name free agents starting pitchers still remaining, Burnett didn’t receive a qualifying offer from his former team. This probably allowed him to maximize his value while making him him more attractive to the Phils on yet another front. It would be tough justifying the loss of a draft pick for the services of a player for one year. Therein lies the other appeal Burnett brings – he doesn’t require a multi-year investment.
The Phils start the season with an unusually high number of games the first month. The Phillies begin their season on March 31st at Texas and play in 28 of the first 31 days through April. Hamels has insisted he’ll pitch in April, and if that’s the case he’ll only end up missing five starts max; less if his 8-10 day projection holds up and he doesn’t miss all of April.
A top of the rotation of Lee, Burnett and Hamels gives the Phils a good chance to win 60% of the games they start. Kendrick looks to be the 4th starter and right now I’d have to say Hernandez is the 5th starter, based on experience and what the Phils paid him. Injuries, such as the one to Hamels will most likely work out how the rotation sets up later in the year. For now it looks like MAG and Pettibone will battle for the spot vacated by Hamels.
Little is still known about the Cuban born Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Most of us can’t wait to see him pitch. We’ve read about his vast repertoire of pitches, which the Phils have indicated they’d whittle down, allowing Gonzalez to focus on his bread and butter pitch’s. Pettibone did Yeoman’s work filling in as the 5th starter for 18 games last year before being shut down with a strained shoulder. He finished at 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA and 1.465 WHIP, or in other words a 5th starters stats. Considering his call to the show came quicker than expected he carried himself well.
If Hamels is really only out a few weeks are the Phillies contenders now? Most writers and publications had them down as a 75-win team before this week. PECOTA had them as a 76 win team. Assuming Burnett yields the team 4-5 extra wins that still puts them at around a .500 team. It still comes down to the core of this team being able to score runs.
Big bounce back seasons are needed from Howard, Rollins and Ruiz. Utley to needs to compete at his 2013 level. Brown, Revere and Asche need to continue climbing the ladder of success and Marlon Byrd must be a lot closer to the 2013 Byrd than the 2012 Byrd. Individually these don’t seem too difficult to achieve. Combined however, it’s an awful lot to to ask. Oh, and the 2nd worse bullpen in the NL whose only major league addition was to trade for Brad Lincoln must take a big step forward from within; something that believe it or not, I can see happening
The realist in me says there’s more to Hamels situation than we’re being told. If that’s not the case then the Phils did get closer this week. Let’s call it a puncher’s chance to get close enough to gain a Wild Card? I doubt it will happen, but baseball is a funny game.