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A.J. Burnett says family brought him to Phillies

David Brown
Big League Stew

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — At the onset of the offseason, A.J. Burnett tried to make it clear: He either was returning to the Pittsburgh Pirates or he was going to retire at age 37.

Speaking at a press conference Sunday afternoon announcing that he was signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, Burnett seemed on the verge of apologizing for changing his mind about the "Pirates" part of the either/or supposition.

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"I did not stick to that, obviously," said Burnett, who has been guaranteed at least $23.5 million by the Phillies if he wants to pitch this season and next. He can make as much as $33.5 million if the mutual option kicks in for 2015 and he starts at least 30 games in each of the next two seasons. It's a lot of money, even for someone who already has earned about $120 million over his career.

The Pirates reportedly offered $12 million (some have said $11 million) to Burnett for him to re-up and follow up their first playoff experience since 1992. But turning them down and going with the Phillies had more to do with family than anything else, Burnett said. His offseason home in Monkton, Md., is about 100 minutes by car to Citizens Bank Park in Philly.

"Hour and a half. I can drive home and stay at my own house if I want to," said Burnett, who drove his pickup truck 16 hours to Phillies camp.

He and his wife have two boys, aged 12 and 9 they "are getting to that age when they need their father figure," Burnett said.

"This is 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 still doing what I love. And it feels good. It was a no-brainer."

Burnett said the Pirates were still a possibility for him as the calendar flipped from December to January — even if the season didn't end for them on the best terms in October.

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A report by John Perrotto in the Beaver County Times said Burnett not only felt insulted by the Pirates asking him to take a pay cut, but everything wasn't all comfy cozy in the Pittsburgh clubhouse anymore. After Game 4 of the NLDS, manager Clint Hurdle had told Burnett he was passing him over to start Game 5 against the Cardinals.

Burnett was enraged by the decision and threatened to not fly with the team to St. Louis despite being told he would likely start Game 1 or 2 if the Pirates advanced to the National League Championship Series to face the Dodgers.

While the clubhouse was closed to the media, sources on the inside said it made for an awkward scene with the players still upset about suffering a tough 2-1 loss and failing to clinch the series while Burnett ranted.

Meanwhile, a source close to Burnett said being bypassed for the Game 5 start motivated the 37-year-old to play one more year. He felt he still had something to prove and also did not want to end his career on such a bad note.

The Pirates lost Game 5 with Burnett on the bench. He downplayed all of that, saying being bypassed had "not one bit" to do with his decision to leave Pittsburgh and sign elsewhere.

"I’m a team guy, but nobody wants to get the ball taken from them — I don’t care who," Burnett said. "[Manager Ryne Sandberg is] going to learn that. There’s going to be games where I don’t want to come out. And he wants that. You don’t want a pitcher who doesn’t want to pitch.

"But that had no influence. I would have liked to have known ahead of time, as opposed to where I was at [when told]. But, hey man, if it’s going to help the team win... It wasn’t the first time that’s happened. It happened in New York a couple of times. If it’s going to put our team in a better spot, then I’m all for it. I was ready to go if needed."

He's ready to go for the Phillies, who project to have a strong top of the rotation again, with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels (once his shoulder is healthy) flanking Burnett.

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"With guys healthy, I think this team, you can put them up against anybody," Burnett said. "The three stars, the three top-of-the-line guys we got, that’s an extra two wins a series...

"The family was the main decision, but on the other hand, I wasn’t just going to play to play. I went to an organization that has a history of doing what they want, everything they can do, to win."

Being unsigned for so long and being a few days late for camp won't matter, Burnett said, because he's been training as he usually has. Besides, it was nice to have a few extra days at home.

"I finally got to stay home for Valentine’s Day, even though I was driving all day," Burnett said. "It was nice to be home. You’re never there on Valentine’s Day. We’re here. 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. They’re getting to the age where they’re starting to figure out what daddy does and what he’s about.

"The years of being gone, the years of traveling — it’s got to come to an end at some point. I just wasn’t ready for it to end."

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David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.comor follow him on Twitter!

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