Phillies pitcher Burnett holds no grudge against Pirates
CLEARWATER, Fla. — A.J. Burnett wasn’t happy with the way the Pirates passed him over to pitch Game 5 of the National League Division Series last October.
But Burnett insisted the snub had no bearing on his decision last week to reject a contract offer from the Pirates and sign with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Sunday, the Phillies finalized Burnett’s one-year, $16 million deal and introduced the right-hander at their spring training facility. Wearing a red warmup pullover and cap with a bright blue “P,” Burnett seemed relaxed after reporting to camp four days into workouts.
Burnett took nearly four months to decide to put off retirement, then narrowed his suitors to the Pirates and Phillies.
“It was close both ways,” Burnett said. “I had relationships there (in Pittsburgh). That group of guys there, those kids, will always be in my heart. They were wonderful, management and everything.”
Burnett said his final decision was swayed by Philadelphia’s proximity — about a 90-minute train ride — to his home in Monkton, Md.
“I’ll put it very simple …” Burnett said, then paused a moment. “This is the first time in my career that I made a decision that wasn’t about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I’m at home, and I can still do what I love. And that feels good. It was a no-brainer to me to make them happy.”
Burnett did not discuss the terms of his contract, which includes a limited no-trade clause, a player option for 2015 and performance bonuses. If he makes 30 or more starts in 2014 and 2015, Burnett will make a total of $33.5 million. By comparison, the Pirates’ last-gasp offer to Burnett was for one year at $12 million.
Burnett, 37, was traded to the Pirates before the 2012 season. He said joining the Pirates “kind of revived” his career, which had taken a sour turn with the New York Yankees.
“The fans there (in Pittsburgh) accepted me,” Burnett said. “And the guys in the clubhouse made it easy for me to find myself again.”
In Game 1 of the NL Division Series, Burnett was torched for seven runs in two innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Clint Hurdle chose rookie Gerrit Cole instead of Burnett to start the decisive Game 5, which the Pirates lost.
Sunday, Burnett dismissed the notion that there is bad blood between himself and Hurdle or general manager Neal Huntington.
“I’m a team guy,” Burnett said. “Nobody wants to have the ball taken from them. But that had no influence (on signing with the Phillies). I would’ve liked to have known ahead of time (that Cole would start), as opposed to what happened. But if it put our team in a better spot, I’m all for it. I was ready to go (in that game), if needed.”
Burnett said he spoke with Hurdle and Huntington after signing with the Phillies and described both the conversations as friendly.
Huntington opted against making Burnett a $14.1 million qualifying offer in November. At the time, Burnett had not indicated whether he would retire. If a player refuses a qualifying offer and then signs with another team, his previous club gets a draft pick as compensation.
“I didn’t think about it that much,” Burnett said. “I had said before, I would either (retire) or play for (the Pirates), so why would you (make the offer)? The fact that I didn’t know yet whether I wanted to play or not, I’m sure had a big impact on them.”
Burnett continued to work out during the offseason. By late January, he realized he still wanted to play.
“After speaking with my wife and the kids, they see it,” Burnett said. “They know that I’m not ready to go out right now. Daddy can still do it.”
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. used a low-pressure approach with Burnett, expressing interest in late November and then backing away. One day before pitchers and catchers reported, the Phillies and Burnett agreed to a deal.
“He’s a difference-maker for us, a big piece,” Amaro said. “He instantly brings depth to our pitching and creates some competition for the other spots and for our bullpen. I couldn’t be happier.”
Note: RHP Brad Lincoln is in camp with the Phillies after being traded from Toronto in early December. “There wasn’t a good fit with Toronto,” said Lincoln, who was dealt to the Blue Jays by the Pirates for RF Travis Snider on July 31, 2012.