The Phillies agreed to terms on a one-year deal with A.J. Burnett, according to a source, and the 37-year-old righthander could arrive as soon as Thursday. Burnett will earn $16 million, according to multiple reports, which will make him the fourth-highest-paid Phillies player this season. Burnett's salary is eclipsed only by that of Japanese superstar-turned-Yankee Masahiro Tanaka among this offseason's free-agent pitchers.
It is a significant investment by the Phillies, who all winter eschewed the idea of rebuilding. They will increase payroll by approximately $20 million to a potential club record that nears the $189 million luxury-tax threshold one season after attendance dropped by 553,315. They signed a TV-rights deal with Comcast last month worth more than $2.5 billion that activates in 2016.
The timing of Hamels' announcement and Burnett's signing were unrelated. Phillies doctors knew of Hamels' condition shortly before Thanksgiving, when biceps tendinitis was diagnosed. They did not administer an MRI exam.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did not disclose the issue when asked about injuries in late January and was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
"Don't feel alarmed," Hamels said. "I feel healthy now. It's trying to get the strength and stamina to do that comfortably and not injure myself. I'm glad we were able to find it earlier. I will progress during spring training. Things will be good."
Hamels said he expects to pitch in April and will be ready "not too far behind" opening day. That is presuming everything goes according to plan. He could throw a bullpen session within 10 days. Nonetheless, this was an inauspicious start to spring training for these Phillies, a team that will require pristine health to compete.
Uncertainty surrounding Hamels may have provided the extra financial boost Amaro needed to secure Burnett. If Hamels can recover, the addition of Burnett forms one of the best rotation trios in baseball. Burnett thrived in Pittsburgh last season, with a 3.30 ERA, a high groundball rate, and a league-leading 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
Burnett has made at least 30 starts in his last six seasons, although he did not improve until leaving the American League.
His winter was a melodrama. At first, Burnett said he would pitch for the Pirates in 2014 or retire. He decided to open the bidding late last month, but preferred employment close to his Monkton, Md., home.
"He's got unbelievable talent," Hamels said of the former Yankee, who beat the Phillies in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, before news of the signing spread. "Unfortunately, I think he kept us away from another ring.
"What he brings to the table is great. If we're able to get him, it only helps us out. It doesn't hurt us," Hamels said. "He's another veteran who has good experience and a good repertoire. I know he is pretty charismatic. He would be good for us."
The rotation, when healthy, will feature Hamels, Lee, Burnett, Kyle Kendrick, and one of these three: Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Gonzalez, or Jonathan Pettibone. Hernandez signed in December for $4.5 million. Gonzalez, a veritable unknown from Cuba, signed a three-year, $12 million contract in August, after the Phillies initially agreed to a $48 million deal. Immediate expectations for him are low.
The Phillies and Burnett were said to be finalizing details of his contract Wednesday. One important stipulation is a no-trade clause, which Burnett will want given his desire to stay close to home. Amaro has not awarded full no-trade clauses during his tenure. He could offer a partial no-trade clause and still have some flexibility to deal Burnett in July if the Phillies do not contend. Burnett could also negotiate a bonus payment for any possible trade.
Hamels, the model for consistency, turned 30 in December. He has thrown at least 180 innings in seven straight seasons. Hamels, with an abrupt end to Roy Halladay's career in his mind, sought advice from the former ace.
"Don't push it into spring training, because spring training is where you can really create some really bad tendencies in your mechanics," Hamels said, relaying the message. "You can create some bad flaws right there, if you don't have the right strength, which can lead into some more serious injuries."
In this case, the Phillies hope they are adding a topflight starter and not just replacing one.
Extra bases. All Phillies pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday, except for minor-league catcher Sebastian Valle, who had flight problems leaving Mexico, a team spokesman said. The first workout is Thursday, and the forecast calls for an unseasonably cool 59 degrees with clouds. . . . Single-game tickets for regular-season games will go on sale Thursday only at phillies.com. Because of the expected storm, Phillies ticket windows and phone lines will be closed.
The Phillies' payroll will soar to approximately $189 million this season. Here are the payrolls for the last five seasons, as calculated for luxury-tax purposes (Major League Baseball ranking in parentheses):
2013 $168,569,538 (5)
2012 $174,523,432 (4)
2011 $165,313,989 (3)
2010 $145,539,931 (3)
2009 $138,286,499 (10)