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Phillies see Burnett as 'the perfect guy for us'
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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryne Sandberg had a difficult time containing the smile on his face as he sat next to A.J. Burnett at Phillies camp Sunday afternoon.

Sandberg’s starting pitching rotation improved substantially when Burnett’s contract became official earlier in the day.

“On my end, just to see A.J. in a Phillies uniform today: A beautiful thing,” Sandberg said. “He's a belated Christmas present and Valentine's Day present that I've been waiting for. A little late, but I'll take it. He's a difference-maker for us. He's a big piece. I couldn’t be happier.”

The Phillies stretched their payroll higher than it has ever been -- it projects to be over $175 million -- to sign Burnett to a one-year contract worth $16 million. If Burnett exercises his end of a mutual option in 2015, the deal could be worth $23.5 million over two years. There is a partial no-trade clause in the contract, allowing Burnett to designate nine teams to which he can be dealt.

The Phillies had agreed to sign Burnett four days earlier, just as spring camp was opening. Burnett had contemplated retirement and did not decide to continue his career until late last month.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team’s pursuit of Burnett was not the result of Cole Hamels’ bout with shoulder tendinitis during the offseason -- “Quite frankly, I’m not all that concerned about Cole,” Amaro said -- nor the result of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez's methodical progression since signing in August.

“I think more than anything else we had a unique opportunity,” Amaro said. “If you were to tell us what pitchers were going to be available -- if he were part of the original mix (early in the offseason) -- he probably would have been at the top of the ticket as far as the type of pitcher we were looking to add to our rotation.

“We got great backing from our partners and the ownership group in order to make this move at this time. It’s obviously late and it’s a significant commitment, but it’s a commitment that was worth it for our organization because we’re trying to win. We’re trying to win a World Series. That’s our job and we believe we have the players to do that. I think we added to it.”

Burnett, 37, went 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA in 61 starts the last two seasons for Pittsburgh. At the end of last season, he raved about his experience in Pittsburgh and said if he were to pitch in 2014 it would only be with the Pirates. When the itch to pitch returned in January, Burnett widened the field of potential teams to those within reasonable driving distance of his suburban Baltimore home. He said Washington and Baltimore showed little interest. Pittsburgh bid $12 million, according to a CBS Sports report.

Burnett said the Phillies won his services because of location. He and his wife have two sons, ages 12 and 9, and pitching in Philadelphia will allow him to be close to his family. He said it’s a 90-minute drive from his home to Citizens Bank Park.

“Boys crave their dad at this time in their life,” Burnett said. “The opportunity came where I was able to be closer to them, a hop, skip and a jump from where I live. It was a no-brainer to make them happy.

“I've been to Philly when they're winning, and it's unbelievable. I'm just real pleased and honored to have an opportunity to play again and do what I love while being real close to the ones I love.

“This is the first 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.”

Burnett has been working out and throwing. He said he is on schedule. He will likely pitch the second game of the regular season, behind Lee, a fellow Arkansas native.

With Burnett joining Lee and Hamels, the Phils have a formidable top-3 in their starting rotation, provided everyone is healthy. On paper, Washington has the top rotation in the NL East with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister at the top.

Sandberg believes Burnett will make the Phillies contenders in the division.

“He’s the perfect guy for us right now,” Sandberg said. “He’s a game-changer for us.”

Burnett also believes the Phillies can win.

“Family was the main decision, but on the other hand I wasn’t just going to play to play,” he said. “I went to an organization that has a history and that obviously does what they want and can do to win.”

With recently retired Roy Halladay’s blessing, Burnett was assigned No. 34. Typically, the Phillies would have kept that number on ice for the season out of respect for Halladay.

Burnett and Halladay were teammates in Toronto and Burnett considers Halladay a mentor.

“Roy Halladay made me realize what I'm here for,” Burnett said. “It's not just to be A.J. in the major leagues and be a Major League Baseball player. It's about helping the young kids, leading by example, doing more when maybe you want to do less. The main thing I learned from Roy was the four days between starts. It's hard as a young guy to stay focused, watch games and be in everything. When I saw him and everything he did, I realized my job was about more than what I do every fifth day.

"There is no replacing Roy Halladay. He's his own breed. I'm just looking forward to making an impact, making a difference.”