The 37-year-old Burnett, who pitched for Pittsburgh for the last two seasons, chose the Phillies over the Pirates, he said, because of the proximity of the team to his home in Monkton, Md. Burnett said the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals showed very little interest.
“An hour and a half,” Burnett said of the commute to Philadelphia from home. “I can drive home and stay in my own house if I want to. … I’ll put it very simple, this is the first time in my career I made a decision that wasn’t about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I’m at home and can still do what I love. And that feels good. It feels good. It was a no-brainer.”
Burnett revived his career with Pittsburgh the last two seasons, pitching to a 3.31 ERA and winning 26 games.
For the majority of the winter, Burnett said he was leaning toward retirement, however. But then the “itch” to start throwing again arrived in January and he changed his mind.
For the Phillies, an older team still attempting to contend, Burnett was the “perfect fit,” said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
“Being able to bring in a top of the rotation talent, someone who knows what it takes to win a championship, somebody who knows how to pitch when the game is on the line and when the season is on the line,” Amaro said. “We’re certainly pleased to slide A.J. into the top of our rotation.”
Manager Ryne Sandberg, who took over for Charlie Manuel in the middle of August, smiled throughout Sunday’s press conference. Sandberg will slide the right-handed Burnett into a rotation that features All-Star left-handers Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
“He’s a belated Christmas present and Valentine’s Day present that I’ve been waiting for,” Sandberg said. “A little late, but I’ll take it. He’s a different maker for us. He’s a big piece. … I couldn’t be happier.”
Burnett is 147-132 with a 3.99 ERA in 375 major league games in 15 seasons with the Pirates, Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Florida Marlins.
But after struggling in his last two seasons in New York, going 21-26 with a 5.20 ERA, Burnett thrived in Pittsburgh and helped guide the Pirates to their first playoff appearance since 1992 last season.
“I found who I was again,” Burnett said. “I went (to Pittsburgh) and, I’d never put myself as a (Roy) Halladay, but as far as a mentor and player-relationship-wise, that’s what I became over there. I never really looked at myself as that guy, but as soon as I walked in that door, that’s who I was. I had no say in the matter, and it showed me who I could have been for a long time, and wasn’t. And it brought out a lot of me that wasn’t there (before).”
Burnett will wear No. 34 for the Phillies, the uniform number that Halladay had with the team for the last four seasons before retiring in December. Burnett and Halladay were teammates for three seasons in Toronto (2006-08).
With his new contract, Burnett gets a $7.5 million signing bonus, of which $1 million is payable Dec. 15, $2.75 million next Jan. 15 and $3.75 million on June 30, 2015.
Burnett has a $7.5 million salary this season, and the contract includes a $15 million option for 2015 with a $1 million buyout. Burnett would receive the buyout only if either party declines and he fails to make 30 starts this year.
If the mutual option isn’t exercised, Burnett would have a $7.5 million player option for 2015. The option price would increase to $8.5 million with 24 starts this year, $10 million with 27, $11.75 million with 30 and $12.75 million with 32.
He can earn an additional $1.75 million annually in performance bonuses: $500,000 each for 24 and 27 starts, and $750,000 for 30.