The Phillies are "very much still in the running" for A.J. Burnett, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reported Monday night. This comes three days after GM Ruben Amaro Jr. cautioned against any more major moves coming.
Amaro said last Friday that it appeared the Phils would head into spring training with the rotation they had.
“I don’t suspect we’ll be doing anything,” the Phillies' GM told CSNPhilly.com Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury. “I think we’ve got what we’ve got. I suspect we’ll go into the season with what we’ve got -- or at least spring training with what we’ve got. We’re always looking, always trolling. I know there are guys out there, but I don’t suspect us having anything major coming through.”
Burnett would certainly qualify as a "major" upgrade to a very thin Phillies staff. He led the NL with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2013 and has the second-best groundball rate in the majors since 2012.
The Burnett saga this offseason has had many stops and starts. At first, retirement seemed to be his choice. Then it appeared he wanted to pitch only for the Pirates, or perhaps the Orioles, since he's a resident of suburban Baltimore. But other teams have entered the mix since the retirement option went out the window, and East Coast teams seem to have the advantage.
Adding Burnett would give the Phillies a rotation that could contend. He'd slot in either in between or after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. After the ace lefties, the Phillies have Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez destined for the rotation, with Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone the top candidates for the final spot.
If the Phillies did bring in Burnett, they'd have a rotation that could rival the NL's top staffs in Washington and Los Angeles. The Nationals' top-four of Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister is the deepest in the NL, but the Dodgers' top-three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu might be the best in a short series.
The Cardinals (Adam Wainwright-Michael Wacha-Shelby Miller-Jaime Garcia-Lance Lynn) and Giants (Matt Cain-Madison Bumgarner-Tim Lincecum-Tim Hudson) also have formidable rotations, further showing how tough it will be for the Phillies to navigate through the NL, with or without Burnett.
The Orioles, Pirates and Blue Jays seem to be the Phillies' clear competition for Burnett, who could likely be had on a one-year deal worth upwards of the $16.5 million he made in 2013.
But Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported over the weekend that the O's are likely out on Burnett. "Feeling is he wants to pitch in NL," Kubatko tweeted.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are a reported suitor for Ervin Santana, which would take them out of the Burnett sweepstakes.
Signing Burnett hasn't been the Phillies' main goal this offseason, but a lot of their moves -- re-signing Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, doing little to improve the bullpen, opting for all low-cost commitments -- make much more sense if they result in the ability to land Burnett.