Hype. Anticipation. Fear.
The unknowns of spring training are what will define the 2014 season for the Philadelphia Phillies. Bum shoulders, aging veterans, overpriced contracts and an out-of-touch front office are contributing to the lower expectations on Pattison Ave.
One more noun could be added into the equation though: Manipulation.
Once again, the delirious general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ruben Amaro Jr., is pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. Or so he thinks.
According to Matt Gelb of "Philly.com," the Phillies have inked veteran starting pitcher A.J. Burnett to a one-year deal worth $16 million. At 37 years old, Burnett is coming off of arguably his best all-around season in Pittsburgh. He posted great numbers in the National League while quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first playoff appearance in two decades.
The past two seasons in the Steel City are likely to confuse individuals with nearsightedness. While Burnett was stellar, his posture in the only major media market he has ever played, New York, leaves much to be desired. Simply put, Burnett did his best George Costanza impression: "It was an inferno in there! An inferno!"
Burnett couldn't wait to get out of New York.
The heat emanating from the pressure cooker of the South Bronx was too much for the righty. In his three years with the New York Yankees, Burnett posted a 4.82 ERA to go along with his record of 34-35. In six postseason starts, he had two wins and two losses to coincide with an ERA of 4.79. Quite frankly, Burnett never lived up to the five-year, $82.5 million contract given to him by the Yankees. After three seasons in the Bronx, he was dealt to the reeling Pirates.
Burnett did resuscitate his career with the Pirates. However, his performance in the Big Apple does lend credence to the notion that the righty struggles to perform when the big lights are on him. And in South Philly, the lights will be bright.
The Phillies are apparently in transition but the front office doesn't want you to think so. According to Jim Salisbury of "CSN Philly," Amaro declared "We are built to contend."
Now that's some comedic insight.
The 2014 season does hinge on an extraction of play reminiscent of what the core of the Phillies were able to do three or four years ago. Naturally, the health of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins matter. But so does reality. In reality, we see a team which has a backbone of nothing but old and bulging discs, pinching the nerves of the very fan base which helped carry the Phillies financially since Ed Wade was chased out of town.
According to David Schoenfield of "ESPN.com," the Phillies are projected to win 66 games in 2014. Put that in perspective. The Phillies haven't lost that many games since 2000 when Terry Francona got the axe.
The Phillies should certainly win more than 66 games and Burnett should help them do so. How about 80 wins? That might be asking for too much, pal.
The profane monetary figure of the Burnett contract flies in the face of anything sane. While team's who seek veterans for one-year deals often accommodate the player by paying a premium, Burnett is not filet mignon. No, he is cube steak. There is a reason he considered hanging up the cleats for good. But instead, Amaro and company gave Burnett 16 million reasons to think otherwise.
Maybe the recent issue concerning Cole Hamels forced Amaro's hand. According to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hamels is set to miss Opening Day due to "discomfort in his shoulder and biceps." Then again, that is just one start.
It will be easier to trust Burnett in the rotation. After all, he immediately hurdles Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, Jonathan Pettibone and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. And if the Phillies do not overachieve and fail to keep things interesting into the summer, they will have a valuable trade piece in Burnett. That is, if he performs on par with what many are expecting (or close to it).
For some reason, the word "if" is being used a lot in Philly.
At the end of the day, signing Burnett is reasonable. While the price tag doesn't match the product, it can be understood as a sign of desperation or attempted manipulation. GM Amaro has been manipulating the fan base into believing the Phillies can contend. Not everyone is buying it. The doom and gloom is real.
And while the Burnett signing does improve the rotation, let's not go crazy. The Phillies aren't suddenly contenders. We shouldn't be setting off fireworks or releasing balloons into the night sky. No, we should continue to be hypercritical. After all, everyone's book has a final chapter and we are one day closer to Amaro's as GM in Philadelphia.
All statistics provided courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless stated otherwise.