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Why are A.J. Burnett and Jonathan Papelbon still with the Phillies?

Jonathan Papelbon should be closing for the Tigers next month. But he probably won't be.

Rich Schultz

A.J. Burnett and Jonathan Papelbon should be playing somewhere else.

Last night, Burnett shut down the hottest team in the National League, holding the Nationals to one run on three hits in seven innings, with 12 strikeouts and just one walk. It was his first victory since the All Star break and lowered his season ERA to 4.30.

In fact, his performance was so good that it had him thinking about not hanging them up after this season (quotes per CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury).

"I guess you could say I've still got it when I do have it," Burnett said after the game. "My decision will come down to how I feel and what my family and I decide. It's just one start, but to be able to go out and do that tonight makes you wonder."

After his loss to the Seattle Mariners last week, Burnet was singing a different tune about coming back in 2015.

"Probably not," he said when asked whether he intended to continue his career in 2015. "But we'll see."

It hadn't been a good stretch for Burnett, who had gone 1-8 with a 5.24 ERA in his previous 11 starts. But his excellent start last night could not have come at a better time, his final appearance before the August 31 waiver trade deadline. Burnett has cleared waivers and can be traded to any team.

One of the rumored reasons Burnett was not dealt before the deadline was that teams were worried he would decide to come back next year under a player option that could force a team to pay him $12.75 million next year. Many teams are scared off by that number and will only trade for Burnett if he promises to retire.

However, it doesn't appear that's going to happen, making it more likely he'll be on the Phils, both in September and in 2015.

As for Papelbon, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal noted yesterday the Phillies are still trying to shop their closer, and appear willing to pay for much of his contract.

Papelbon cleared waivers, so he is available to any club. And while his contract includes a $13 million salary next season and $13 million vesting option for 2016, Amaro said that he has made it clear to other GMs that he is willing to include cash in any trade, "including possible vests."

Much of the fear is certainly that his fastball velocity is more than three miles an hour slower than it was four years ago, and there are worries his .232 BABIP is the main reason for his 1.63 ERA and 32 saves.

Still, even if Papelbon has been a bit lucky, and even if his ERA is far lower than his xFIP of 3.64, he'd still be an improvement over the dreck the Detroit Tigers have been running out there every day. The Tigers' bullpen ERA is 4.55, 3rd-worst in the American League, with closer Joe Nathan's ERA an unsightly 5.36. They still have a need, and if the Phillies are willing to eat a lot of salary, what's the hold-up?

Perhaps teams are worried Papelbon would be a clubhouse cancer, and those worries have merit. But the Tigers are in a dogfight for the AL Central, and Papelbon would immediately become a stabilizing force in the back of the bullpen.

It seems clear to me that Papelbon has learned how to pitch with a slower fastball. Certainly, the peripherals indicate some luck with his success this year, but they shouldn't be so scary that Detroit shouldn't offer something for him.

At the end of the day, both Burnett and Papelbon will probably still be pitching for the Phils, both in September and next season, even though both pitchers could help contenders make a playoff push in the season's final month.