The "trade Pat Burrell" crowd never gained much traction this winter.
It started with a neutral cry to trade a corner outfielder for pitching, either Burrell or Bobby Abreu. For certain reasons, "trade Bobby Abreu" got the better jump and never looked back.
There are good reasons. The Phillies needed front-line pitching, and Abreu is considered the only commodity that can get it. He is seen as the the better all-around player and has one less year on his contract. He is a left-handed hitter on a team stacked with bats from that side, while Burrell is still the best right-handed bat in the organization.
Last season was different. There was little talk of moving either of them. The concept of dumping their long-term contracts and getting value in return seemed an impossible proposition.
If then-GM Ed Wade were to unload one, just for argument’s sake, it would have been Burrell. Abreu had already established himself as one of the premier offensive producers in the game, while Burrell--still owed close to $45 million through 2008--was still receiving specialized hitting instruction.
Wade had made a critical error it seemed. He had pushed six-year, $50 million on the young, fast-rising Burrell midway through the 2002 season. Two years later, he was lost.
But in 2005, Wade’s last as GM, the gamble finally paid off. Burrell led the team in home runs (32) and tied for second in the National League in RBIs (117). He posted career-highs in walks (99) and on-base percentage (.389). He was the best source of isolated power (SLG-BA) for most of the season, and also the best producer in clutch situations, according to the Hardball Times interpretation of clutch.
All this, but he still showed stretches where he was completely beaten.
A comment came in to Beerleaguer from a person named "Bill" back in May, when I was all wired up about Burrell’s hot season:
Pat put up good cumulative numbers this year, but almost all of it has been from 2 hot stretches (early April and recently). Look at his numbers on a week by week basis. He has poor hitting mechanics with a tendency to lunge. Look at the picture attached to the blog entry which shows his "collapsing back leg." I hope I am wrong, but I don't ever see Burrell being the star player we had expected after 2002.
Burrell maintained a consistent batting average for most of the season, hovering around the .285 range, but his power would indeed shut down for long stretches, including a dry patch from mid-July to early August, and again in September, when he was accumulating strikeouts at an enormous rate, often called out looking. In watching most games, I noticed during the hottest months that Burrell had shredded off some of his mass and appeared to be wearing down, along with the rest of the offense.
Burrell’s struggles in 2003 and 2004 are repeatedly linked to Larry Bowa. Looking back on last season, he could have easily plummeted into a rut after a week or two of lost confidence. Charlie Manuel was advertised as a manager that could keep players loose, and appeared to deliver on that promise. Had some of the same two-week droughts from this season occurred under a different regime, Burrell's season may have been different.
In October, Burrell underwent foot surgery to remove a bone spur, a less-publicized ailment than his left wrist. To my knowledge, he has not undergone surgery on the wrist, which was the original plan back when he suffered the injury late in 2004. Instead, he rehabbed in the offseason, and appeared to have no ill effects.
It’s the little things like wrists and feet that scare me, especially with a big guy and big swinger like Burrell. Injuries like that can screw up the swinging motion, more than his already unorthodox hack, and lead to bigger injuries to the back and shoulder.
He’ll turn 30 later this year and has been clean so far, but for a man his size and strength, there are some things a gym can’t prevent. I would consider Burrell an injury risk.
The folks at the Phillies blog The Good Phight are polling readers to give their 2006 projection for Burrell. I’ve never been good at forecasting his season, horrible in fact.
I'm confident of some things. I don’t see Burrell ever reaching 40 home runs, but it's no big deal. I look for the same high-strikeout rate we’ve come to expect, somewhere in the 140-160 range. I think the walks will stick, but the .281 batting average will not. At 29, I begin to worry about when he starts to break down. He rarely had a day's rest last season, and I am curious to see how often he will be used next season, or whether he'll get some games at first.
His most important contribution to the team is batting fifth and driving in old-fashioned RBIs, appropriate for a player who looks like a heroic throwback to the 1940s. If he can repeat 2005 in that category over the life of his contract, it’s worth it. I believe he can do it.