Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Start the campaign; Burrell for 2009

By Michael Rushton
Phanatic Magazine

There are a host of different story lines that will follow the Phillies around this season.

Can Brett Myers effectively return to his role as a starter? Will Cole Hamels take another step forward this year? Can Jimmy Rollins repeat his MVP season? Will Ryan Howard earn his $10 million this year?

Another one has gotten some play this year as well, and personally I find it one of the most interesting things to watch this year. Simply put, is this Pat Burrell's last year in left field for the Phillies?

The ultimate tease, Burrell is entering the final year of his six-year, $50 million deal that went into effect for 2003. He is slated to make $14 million in 2008.

Burrell's timeline in Philadelphia has been discussed over and over again. The first overall pick of the 1998 draft had two solid years for the Phillies in 2000 and 2001, then exploded onto the scene the following season with a 37-homer, 116-RBI campaign that led to his big deal.

However, in 2003, he batted just .209 and hit 21 homers and 64 RBI. The following year wasn't much better -- .257, 24 HR, 84 RBI -- but he seemed to turn a corner in 2005. That season, he hit 32 homers and drove in 117 runs while upping his average to .281.

The damage had already been done by that point, though. Burrell was billed as a player who couldn't lead this team to postseason glory, and was undeserving of the contract he signed. He became a popular whipping boy and was largely blamed for the team's struggles.

Yet, Burrell never openly complained about it, never tried to get out of town. Still, given the Phillies inability to trade him before last season, would that have really mattered?

In his last two years, Burrell has been good. Not great and not mediocre, but good. He hasn't hit over .260 in either year, but 59 homers and 192 RBI are tough to argue against.

The problem that creates the perception of Burrell is his knack for going into streaks, both good and bad. How else could those said numbers be ignored so much.

Last year, Burrell hit just .215 before the break with 11 home runs and 37 RBI. However, as the Phillies completed an improbable run to the NL East title, "Pat the Bat" hit .295 with 19 homers and 60 RBI in 74 post All-Star games.

It was kind of the same in 2006. Burrell's second-half average was higher, but his home run and RBI total was better in the first half of the season. Still, it was a tale of two halves, and lets not forget his inability to hit with runners in scoring posting in 2006 (.222).

Logic says Burrell will not be back next year. His salary is best saved for the likes of Howard, Utley, Hamels and so on. However, let's not forget what Burrell has done for us.

He hustles to the best of his ability and as much as his nagging foot will let him. He never looks like he doesn't try or isn't hustling. And, after all, he straight-up kills the Mets, which is great.

For what it is worth, Burrell has already said he wants to stay.

"One hundred percent I want to stay," Burrell told the Phillies' official Web site in an article published on February 19. "I'd love to come back. It's really got more to do with the guys on the team. This group of guys is going to win for a long time."

If anyone is taking a vote, I vote for Burrell in left for 2009.

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