The Phillies lack starting rotation depth. The Phillies as the roster currently stands have just six starting pitchers: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Gonzalez, and Jon Pettibone. Pettibone and Kendrick finished 2013 on the disabled list, and Gonzalez has never thrown a professional pitch in the United States.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said as much last night, as passed on by Ryan Lawrence of the Daily News:
"We need to really nail down the rotation . . . see who is going to step up," Sandberg said."We'll see what happens," he said. "We'll get down to spring training and see guys throw the ball and get that figured out. Whether we're done [making additions] or not, that remains to be seen. Something could still be done . . .
Something could indeed still be done. The free agent pitching market has names such as Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo. One more prominent name can be added to the list. Originally considering retirement, the 37 year-old A.J. Burnett announced plans to pitch again in 2014, as reported by Travis Sawchick of the Pittsburgh Tribune:
A.J. Burnett will return to pitch in '14, per source. Burnett will be open to pitching for a club other than the Pirates— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) January 28, 2014
The veteran Burnett went 10-11 with a 3.20 ERA in 2013. Burnett is a durable arm who has made 30 starts each of the last six seasons. 2013 was the best season he has had in years.
Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer thinks there could be a match between Burnett and the Phillies:
If signed by the Phillies, he would slot behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee to strengthen a rotation shrouded in mystery.
There are connections between the Phillies and Burnett. His agent is Darek Braunecker, the same man who represents Lee. Burnett is neighbors and close family friends with Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock. Braunecker and Proefrock have a strong working relationship.
Gelb wonders if the deal could "move the needle" far enough away from the 73-win team that the Phillies were in 2013.
Burnett could be valuable either way. If Burnett pitches the innings he has the last several years and keeps the Phillies' rotation steady behind Lee and Hamels, the team could benefit greatly. Even if the team is scuffling, Burnett could be a trade commodity at the trade deadline. In the Phillies' current circumstances, acquiring veteran pieces that they could trade at the deadline could help the team long-term.
So, for wins now or a trade later, Burnett makes sense. However, will the Phillies think so? If their manager is publicly stating that the team is short, the team really should consider adding someone.