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February 13, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Phillies Sign Burnett, Pirates Learn Lesson

by Ben Lindbergh and Mauricio Rubio



PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $16 million contract. [2/12]

If there was one thing we thought we knew this winter, it was where A.J. Burnett would be in 2014: in uniform for the Pirates, or at home in Monkton, MD, a town of 5,000 whose chamber of commerce owes Burnett a big debt for all the extra tourist traffic. That was the story we heard starting in late September, when he put the probability of pitching this season at 50 percent and proclaimed, “I do want to go out a Pirate.” But we should have remembered how easy it is for a mystery team to materialize, and how sometimes, that team is the Phillies. Never underestimate the fog of free agency.

Conspiracy theorists might wonder whether Burnett’s public “Pittsburgh or bust” stance was a ploy designed to avoid a qualifying offer (and the accompanying draft pick compensation cost), then cash in elsewhere. It seems more likely, though, that not extending the offer was a miscalculation on Pittsburgh’s part. Perhaps the Pirates believed that they could get Burnett for less than the $14.1 million qualifying offer amount; if so, either they misread the market or misread Burnett’s willingness to take less than he could command. As recently as late last month, John Perrotto reported that the Pirates had yet to offer Burnett as much as $10 million; I’m already forgetting the “fog of free agency” lesson from the first paragraph, but assuming that was so (and assuming that they haven’t upped their offer considerably since then), only three explanations would seem to make sense.

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