There are not a lot of happy faces in the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse right now.
This is what happens when a winning culture has been replaced by a losing one. This is what happens when a team going nowhere, in fact, goes nowhere. This is what happens when veteran players, expecting to play on a playoff contender, end up merely contending for a higher draft pick the following season.
In the moments after losing to the Padres in San Diego last night, 5-4 (eloquently recapped by @Phrozen), Phils starter A.J. Burnett was upset, both about losing his league-leading 17th game, as well as the general direction of the 2014 season.
Burnett made his 32nd start last night, which was an important milestone. It meant that the player option for Burnett next season jumped from $11.75 to $12.75 million, but that's only if he decides to come back. And that, apparently, is still very much up in the air.
When asked about it last night, Burnett seemed to have no idea what he would ultimately decide.
"If I can lift my arm up at the end of the season then I might pitch," Burnett said. "We'll see how it goes."
As mentioned in the comments below by LGT8 (nice job), was that a dig at manager Ryne Sandberg?
Burnett has pitched all season with a hernia, which will require surgery. But he's pitched through it, throwing 202.2 innings this season, the most he's thrown in any season since 2009, and fifth-most in the National League. He has thrown 3268 pitches this season, second-most in the NL (trailing only Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto), and allowed a league-high 87 walks, 13 more than the next closest starters, Zack Wheeler and Travis Wood.
Certainly, his hernia has affected him. But when asked to talk more about his season and whether he plans to pitch next year, he gave a more cryptic answer to reporters (quotes per the Inquirer's Matt Gelb).
"I expected a lot of things to be different," Burnett said. "A lot."
"I told you we'll discuss that when the time comes," Burnett said.
We all know the clubhouse is probably not an overly happy place right now. The team is on a meaningless, end-of-season west coast trip that almost certainly no one wants to be on. Closer Jonathan Papelbon was just slapped with a seven-game suspension for grabbing his crotch at the booing crowd following a blown save on Sunday. And the reality of losing more games than they're winning certainly isn't making the Phils' locker room the happiest place on earth.
Everyone just wants the season to be over. And that's understandable.
As for Burnett in 2015, he was paid $17.75 million this season and rewarded the team with a 17-loss season, the first Phillie since the immortal Mark Leiter lost 17 in 1997. Burnett is both mentally and physically exhausted, and must decide whether he will return for one final season next year within a week after this season is over.
The Phils will need rotation help in '15, and a healthy Burnett would probably be as good an option as any of the other middle-tier free agents the team would explore over the winter. The only question is, has Burnett been turned off by the losing so much that he would retire instead?
Right now, not even he knows what he'll do next. In the meantime, the Phillies hurtle towards their third straight, non-winning season, all of them with a payroll $170 million or higher.