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There are many great Philadelphia Phillies free-agent acquisitions that fans can look back on fondly. Re-signing Cliff Lee and essentially stealing him away from the New York Yankees is among the top such moves. Conversely, considering the worst free-agent deals in franchise history, A.J. Burnett has to be among them.
On February 16, 2014 — seven years ago from this past Tuesday — the Phillies signed Burnett to a one-year, $16 million contract with an option for a second season, amid news that Cole Hamels would miss Opening Day. At the time, the Arkansas native was one of the most experienced and respectable pitchers in baseball.
The Phillies signing A.J. Burnett was a failed attempt to bolster the rotation.
Through 15 seasons, he had gone 147-132 with a sub-4.00 ERA spanning 375 appearances and more than 2,350 innings. Burnett won the 2009 World Series opposite the Phillies in his first year with the New York Yankees, but faced them plenty of times before during his seven-year Florida Marlins stint that began his career, starting in 1999.
Burnett’s career saw a resurgence with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 and 2013, when he went a combined 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA, 1.228 WHIP, and 389-129 strikeouts-to-walks ratio across 393 1/3 innings. Then came his short-lived Phillies career. Through 34 starts in 2014, Burnett led Major League Baseball in losing decisions (18), earned runs allowed (109), and walks allowed (96).
A.J. Burnett left millions on the table to part with the Phillies after just one year.
After his one-year Phillies stint, Burnett returned to the Pirates and had an admirable final season in the majors. In returning to the Pennsylvania state rivals, Burnett declined his $12.75 million option and ultimately took a $4.25 million paycut.
The decision paid off, as Burnett went 9-7 with a 3.18 ERA, 1.360 WHIP, and 143-49 strikeouts-to-walks ratio spanning 164 innings and 26 starts. Also, he earned his first and only career All-Star nod that year.
Coincidentally, both Lee and Burnett wore No. 34 as Phillies. So did Roy Halladay, a teammate of Burnett’s while with the Toronto Blue Jays. Ultimately, Burnett did the Phillies a favor by opting out of his contract early. The team was nowhere close to contention in 2015 and went on to finish in last place at 63-99. Manager Ryne Sandberg would be replaced mid-season by Pete Mackanin.
Burnett was up for a Hall of Fame nomination in this year’s voting, but received no votes along with fellow former Phillie Shane Victorino, as well as Dan Haren, Michael Cuddyer, and 2009 Yankee teammate Nick Swisher. Burnett had a respectable 17-year career. His one year spent in red pinstripes likely ranks as his least favorite of them all.