After earlier today posting without much fanfare, that A.J. Burnett had opted out of his 2015 contract with the team and has elected free agency, then taking down that note and putting Burnett on the 40-man roster, the Phillies made it official on Monday night.
A.J. Burnett will not be back.
Burnett declined option. He is a free agent. No longer a Phillie— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyCSN) November 4, 2014
#Phillies just announced that A.J. Burnett declined his $12.75-million player option. Surprising. Could have made $14.5M with incenties— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) November 4, 2014
Burnett does the Phillies a big favor here. In rebuilding mode, they had no desire to pay him $12.75 million to pitch next season.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) November 4, 2014
That's $12M dollars that go straight to the Tomas piggy bank.— Paul Boyé (@paul_boye) November 4, 2014
If we get Tomas everyone send a thank you letter to Burnett.— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) November 4, 2014
This move is a bit shocking since Burnett, on account of starting more than 32 games in 2014, is walking away from a guaranteed $12.75M. Clearly, money was not Burnett's primary motivation in this decision, as he figures to make substantially less than $12.75M on the open market. While the ability to occupy the mound for ~200 innings in a given season is a valuable skill, doing so at approximately "replacement level" production makes that endurance and dependability his only clearly marketable skill.
At this point in his career, it is very possible that Burnett just wants to play for a winner. He already has 2 World Series rings (2003 Marlins, 2009 Yankees), but might be itching for a third. It's also possible that he has some sort of unbreakable routine of winning a championship every 6 years and has an insatiable desire to win in 2015 before becoming the model family man he purports to be. He's made over $135M in his career according to Baseball-Reference and certainly has the financial flexibility to pursue his passions over monetary earnings.
It's likely he'll find some market for his talents among contenders in need of pitching. If he's still committed to playing close to home the Orioles and Pirates come to mind as suitable destinations. Maybe he just wants to retire and spend time with his family. A team, like the Pirates or Orioles could justifiably dream on Burnett returning to his 2013 form in front of a capable defense, something the Phillies were unable to provide.
Either way, Burnett held the Phillies rotation together in 2014. In the micro-economy of the Phillies, "replacement level" in 2014 fell well below the widely established standard considering that his 213.2 innings pitched would probably have been given to Sean O'Sullivan types. Underwhelming A.J. Burnett is a massive upgrade over the horrific pitching abilities of his potential replacements.
What does this mean for the Phillies in 2015?
Burnett's departure leaves the Phillies with a likely rotation of Hamels, Lee, Buchanan, and Jerome Williams. To fill that last spot, they will likely look to some of the options John Stolnis outlined this morning, in what turned out to be a very timely and prescient piece. It also will leave the Phillies with some money to go after international players like Yasmani Tomas and Kenta Maeda (if posted). Additional flexibility is rarely a bad thing for a team at this point in the offseason, and Burnett's departure provides the Phillies with just that.