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A.J. Burnett Explains Decision to Leave, Reminisces Over Time with Pittsburgh Pirates

February 17th, 2014 at 6:36 PM
By Allan Smith

'A.J. Burnett' photo (c) 2012, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

In a news conference with reporters Sunday at the Philadelphia Phillies spring training facilities in Clearwater, FL, A.J. Burnett was formally introduced as a member of the team.

Burnett's one-year deal is worth $15 million, $7.5 million of which comes in the form of a signing bonus. In addition, he has a $15 million mutual option for the 2015 season should he decide to come back for another year. If the Phillies decline their portion of the option, Burnett has a player option worth $7.5 million with a $1 million buyout. 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 is guaranteed to make $23.5 million if he chooses to pitch both years, and the contract could be worth as much as $33.5 million if he meets incentives based on his pitching 30 games in a season. Burnett also received a limited no-trade clause.

Burnett's signing bonus breaks down as such; he 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.

He can also earn an additional $1.75 million annually in performance bonuses: $500,000 each for 24 and 27 starts, and $750,000 for 30.

The Pirates offered Burnett $12 million for one year, according to reports.

"To be honest with you, I don't know everything that's in my contract," Burnett said when asked about his limited no-trade clause. "That's why I have [agent] Darek [Braunecker]. He then said to Ruben Amaro Jr, general manager of the Phillies, "We'll go over the rest one of these days."

Yet, Burnett stressed the choice was one made for his family. Philadelphia is roughly 100 miles from his family home in Monkton, Md. In comparison, Pittsburgh is 250 miles from Burnett's Maryland residence.

"My boys are getting at that age where they need a father figure," Burnett said. "My kids' birthdays are in March. They're in school, I never see them. That's the kind of stuff that wears on me. They're a big part of my life."

When asked about telling 93.7 The Fan in October that his plans were to either return or retire, Burnett said that's where his head was at that time.

"It was a long year. It was a great year, it was a fun year," he said. "When I said that, at that time, that's where I was with my family, with my thoughts."

He added it was a tough choice whether to sign in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, but said it had nothing to do with being denied the start for the fifth game of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Burnett was rocked in the series' first game, and had historically been bad at Busch Stadium. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle decided to pitch Gerrit Cole that night, and Burnett was upset he was not notified in advance.

"That had no influence," he said. "I would have liked to have known ahead of time as opposed to where I was at. … If it's going to put our team in a better spot, then I'm up for it."

The Pirates declined to offer Burnett a qualifying offer which would have been worth $14.1 million and ensured the team did not lose Burnett for nothing. However, Burnett understood why the team decided against the offer.

"I mean, all due respect, I said I'm going to be done or play for you guys," Burnett said. "In that regard, why would you, I guess?"

He spoke fondly of his time with the Pirates, which came after a disastrous final two seasons with the New York Yankees

“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 be wearing No. 34 for the Phillies, which was Hallday's number during his time in Philadelphia.. Burnett asked if wearing his old number was okay, and the former Cy Young Award winner said he had no problem with it.

"I'll never put myself in the same category as a Halladay, ever, but as far as mentor-wise and as far as a player, leadership-wise, I became that guy over there (in Pittsburgh)," he said. "I never really looked at myself as that guy, but as soon as I walked through that door, I was. I didn't have to say anything. It showed me who I was, who I could have been for a long time that I wasn't."

The choice to join the Phillies after an enjoyable two-year ride with the Pirates, however, was a no-brainer for Burnett.

"I'll put it very simple. For the first time in my career, I made a decision that wasn't about A.J. Burnett," he said. "It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I'm at home, and I can still do what I love."

Information compiled from NJ.com, ESPN.com and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Tags: A.J. Burnett, Baseball, MLB, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pirates

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