Burnett less than striking for Phillies

ASSOCIATED PRESS A.J. Burnett buries his face in his jersey after giving up three-run homer to Travis d'Arnaud.
ASSOCIATED PRESS A.J. Burnett buries his face in his jersey after giving up three-run homer to Travis d'Arnaud.
Posted: July 30, 2014

NEW YORK - Five nights earlier, A.J. Burnett stood in the center of the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park and was asked if the eight shutout innings he just had thrown were likely his last in a Phillies uniform.

Burnett politely declined to entertain such questions. He fancies himself as a team-first player and plays the part well, too.

The fact is Burnett, like many a Phillies veteran players, has a contract that makes him difficult to trade.

A little more than a month after his 37th birthday, Burnett signed a somewhat complicated contract that guaranteed him $22.5 million, but included the option to make as much as $12.75 million in 2016, too.

Most contending teams prefer to deal for players with controllable or expiring contracts. Burnett's is not.

Last night at Citi Field, he didn't exactly look like the kind of difference-maker a team might be willing to take a chance on in spite of that contract.

The Mets scored four in the first inning off Burnett en route to a 7-1 win over the Phillies.

"Brutal effort," Burnett said afterward.

Ryan Howard (0-for-5) struck out with the bases loaded to end the game. He also stranded eight runners and made an error.

The Phillies have lost seven of 11 games since the All-Star break.

Burnett, one start removed from dominating the San Francisco Giants in a 131-pitch performance, put his team in a hole at the get-go in Flushing and then served up a three-run homer to former Phillies prospect Travis d'Arnaud as the Mets further distanced themselves in the fifth inning.

Burnett was charged with seven earned runs on eight hits in five innings; he struck out four and walked two. It was the second time in his last three starts that he had gone just five innings and allowed at least six runs.

"Flat - everything," Burnett said. "Everything. I was throwing breaking balls at 81. Fastballs at 90 . . . There was no life, nothing."

Burnett, the owner of two World Series rings, probably wasn't the best trade bait on the mound. Bartolo Colon flirted with a shutout before giving up a two-out, run-scoring double to Carlos Ruiz in the eighth.

The 41-year-old Colon allowed 10 hits, but just one run in 7 2/3 innings; he struck out six and walked one.

"He was throwing cut fastballs and spotting his pitches real well," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "The guys had a hard time, especially with men on base, connecting on him."

The Phillies outhit the Mets, 13-9, but couldn't cash in those hits for runs. It marked the 12th time this season the Phillies had nine or more hits but three runs or fewer; only the Braves and Rockies have done that more often.

"It's just about getting that one extra hit, whether it's just a single or a ball driven to drive in a couple runs," Sandberg said.

Colon, who was also a free agent last winter, improved to 10-8 and lowered his ERA to 3.88. He is owed a guaranteed $11 million next year, when he turns 42.

Burnett, 6-10 with a 4.15 ERA in 23 starts, has a player option for $7.5 million next year. When he makes his next start, it jumps to a $8.5 million player option.

And if a contending team does trade for him, and hopes to have him make starts every 5 days down the stretch, they'll see that number jump with every three starts: $11.75 million player option for 27 starts, $12.75 million player option after 30 starts.

Oh, and unlike Colon, Burnett has no-trade protection in his contract, too. He can block trades to two-thirds of the league; among the 10 teams he cannot block (that are contenders) are Pittsburgh, Baltimore, St. Louis, Kansas City, New York Yankees and Washington.

Burnett, who flirted with retirement last winter, was asked after the game if he even planned to pitch next year.

"I'm trying to go out and win ballgames, that's all I'm worried about," he said, once again trying to avoid all talk possibly linked to trade rumors. "Next year will take care of itself after this year."

Even if the Phillies are able to maneuver through the contract mess (read: pay a team to take him), they're unlikely to score a top-shelf prospect for Burnett. Like the one who helped beat them last night.

Traded away 4 1/2 years ago in the deal that brought Roy Halladay to the Phillies, d'Arnaud went 3-for-4 with a home run, two doubles and three RBI. The 25-year-old d'Arnaud, whom the Mets received from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey trade, is hitting .302 with four homers and 16 RBI in 25 games since returning from the minor leagues in late June.

Carlos Ruiz managed to up one-up the Mets' catcher, at least in the hits department. Ruiz went 4-for-4 with a double; the four hits tied a career high.

Marlon Byrd, another old player signed to a cumbersome contract in the offseason, also had four hits. Byrd, who had to revive his career in the Mexican League a little more than a year ago, could make as much as $20 million from now until the end of the 2016 season, when he turns 39.

The Phillies signed him to a 2-year, $16 million deal that includes a vesting option for a third year, basically based on staying healthy. It kicks in with 600 plate appearances in 2015 or 1,100 plate appearances this season and next (with at least 550 in 2015).

Byrd also can block trades to four teams, including two that could have real interest in him this week, Seattle and Kansas City. Byrd likely would approve trades if those teams guaranteed the third year vesting option ($8 million) in his contract.

Like Burnett, he's not easy to deal.

"I have no clue what [guys are] thinking," Burnett said when asked if the trade chatter is unavoidable this week. "I don't like to talk about it . . . So as soon as I hear talk, I walk away. I don't even want to be around that."

Based on the events of last night - and the contract he signed in February - he might not have to be.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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