The signing of A.J. Burnett makes the Phillies a 2 WAR better team. Jonathan Pettibone likely ends up being the odd man out in a now crowded Phillies rotation. Whether or not the Burnett signing was made to cover-up a more serious injury to ace Cole Hamels is another issue, but the underlying issue with this team is direction and that for 2014, the Phillies have nearly $81 million committed to six starting pitchers (Lee, Hamels, Burnett, Kendrick, Hernandez, and Gonzalez). This does not even include Pettibone, who pitched well enough in 2013 to at the very least get a chance at a rotation spot, but now seems destined to start the year in AAA.
I get it though. Amaro is backed up against a wall and forced to make moves out of desperation to try and save his job. He is all in relying on aging veterans to not only stay healthy, but to put up above average statistical years.
Are the Phillies a better team with Burnett? Absolutely, but he is not enough carry this team on a playoff run. Even with Burnett, the Phillies max out as an 85 win team and that is only if everything works in their favor. There are just too many question marks, Burnett included, to make me believe otherwise.
A.J. Burnett is not Sandy Koufax. He's not classic Roy Halladay either. He's a good pitcher who isn't great, but has made pretty awesome money. In signing him, the Phillies do not sign a Cy Young contender. With that said, Burnett is easily the third best pitcher on this roster, on paper, and represents a sizable upgrade over both the potential #3's the Phillies held (Gonzalez, Kendrick, and Hernandez), and last year's #3 (Halladay to start the season, Kendrick as the season went on).
If everything went well, I said the Phillies ceiling was 85 wins. Now it's probably in the 88-90 range. That's not a prediction, that's a ceiling. I would have said they were a 77-81 win team before, and now I'll say 81-85 wins. They now are a fairly solid staff, one to three at least, and probably can compete if things go well. Still, plenty of "if's" for this group.
I love the deal on its own. It’s a win-win-win for the Phillies. If Burnett is good, and the team succeeds, he helps a playoff push. If he succeeds, but the team is struggling, he’s a trade chip. However, if he fails, chalk it up as a loss, just like the season would have been without him.
The question at hand, though, is where the A.J. signing puts the team now. 3-4 extra wins is what I think Burnett brings this team. Where does that put them? Somewhere in the 70-75 win range. There are just way too many ‘if’s’, more than last season. You have to consider that Burnett’s success was built heavily on both strikeouts and ground balls. In order for ground ball pitchers to be successful, he needs a reliable infield.
While they’re not the worst, both Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley lost a lot of their spark the last couple of seasons. Ryan Howard is an enormous red flag at first, and Cody Asche is heading into his first full major league season. Carlos Ruiz is closest to a sure thing defensively, but that doesn’t help Burnett all that much.
Factor these figures in with a still shaky, but possibly dynamic*, outfield, and you have an equation that doesn’t equal much more success for this ballclub. *I say dynamic in the sense that, if Brown/Revere/Byrd manage to all succeed, the outfield is very talented. But I find it challenging to see that actually happen.
The Phillies badly needed another solid starter, even before the team learned that Cole Hamels' tendinitis would keep him from starting the season on time. I have written many times that the Phillies could not possibly enter the season with two starters that ended 2013 on the disabled list (Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone) and one who has not thrown a pitch in American professional baseball at any level (Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez). The move means that as long as Cole Hamels is healthy, three days out of five the Phillies can expect to have someone throw enough innings to keep them in the game and not max out the bullpen.
Had Cole Hamels not had the injury, I would've put the team at around 84 wins. I do not have a number just yet; it depends how much time that Hamels misses. If the Phillies simply skip Hamels' spot in the rotation once or twice and go from there, that may not be the worst thing in the world. But, if the Phillies see Hamels miss significant amounts of time, they are in trouble. If everything goes right (and I mean everything) the Phillies have a shot at the playoffs. But one or two major injuries, then the Phillies become sellers at the trade deadline and start the rebuild. The rebuild won'd be so bad, because A.J. Burnett could be spun in a trade as long as he is performing relatively well.
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