Burrell happy to enter '07 with Phils
After offseason of trade rumors, left fielder eager to help club
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Though Pat Burrell may spend his offseason thousands of miles from Philadelphia, he doesn't actually live under a rock.So he's aware of how vigorously he was shopped this offseason while the Phillies sought to replace him with free-agent slugger Alfonso Soriano. He's heard how his August and September struggles hurt the club's pursuit of a National League Wild Card berth and made pitching around NL MVP Ryan Howard a snap. And yes, former Phils manager Dallas Green's comments that the former No. 1 overall pick should refine his off-the-field lifestyle to refocus on baseball got back to Burrell, as did Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt's more recent words about Burrell's high strikeout totals. Yet somehow there was Burrell standing on the field at Bright House Networks Field early Wednesday morning, wearing Phils gear, discussing the trade rumors and also what he hopes will be a productive season as a member of the squad. "There was a lot of talk about that, even during the year last year," Burrell said. "That's all behind us. Obviously, that's part of the game, and you have to be able to handle it and move on. I'm here now. Who knows what will happen, but I'm planning on being here. The focus [now] should be on what we need to do to prepare to get ready to win." Burrell admitted to following the team's pursuit of Soriano, and acknowledged that the slugger landing in Philadelphia would have complicated things in the outfield. "If he would've come here, they would have had to make some more decisions, but luckily, we don't have to worry about that," Burrell said. "You have to appreciate the situation you're in and enjoy the time you have. I'm glad to be back. When you're around long enough, you understand this is part of it. Most of the time, it's not personal. The team has an obligation to do what they think is best. I have to believe that's why I'm still here." With Soriano no longer an option, and Gary Sheffield and other possibilities having dried up, it became apparent that Burrell would return. General manager Pat Gillick visited his left fielder in Arizona and came away impressed with Burrell's determination. Gillick told Burrell he would approach him should something else come up -- Burrell's no-trade clause requires it -- and Burrell came away feeling like he was again part of the team. Manager Charlie Manuel said similar things to his left fielder, and plans to use him as the team's No. 5 hitter. "We need him," Manuel said. "He's a big part of our offense. He knows what he has to do." As bad as Burrell was perceived to be -- the .222 average with runners in scoring position in 2006 continues to be brought up -- his 29 homers and 95 RBIs were three and 22 fewer, respectively, than his 2005 totals, and came in 100 fewer at-bats. In 2005, he drove in 117 RBIs, second in the NL.
"Not bad for the worst player in the league," Burrell joked. "If I had the 100 at-bats, I think the numbers would be similar and we wouldn't be having this conversation. If you told me last year that I was going to get 450 at-bats and hit 29 homers and drive in 95 runs, I'd be pretty pleased with that."Despite the subpar totals -- he did hit 23 points lower -- Burrell was seventh in the NL in RBI ratio, driving in a run every 4.86 at-bats, and he was eighth in go-ahead RBIs (29). Granted, he hit fifth in the league's most potent offense, so generating some of those RBIs came more easily, but Burrell knows what's expected. "Runners in scoring position is a great stat for the team," he said. "It's hard enough to be successful in any situation, but to not be successful there, that's something I take a lot of pride in. It's one of those things that mentally you have to be prepared for, and sometimes that can be tough. Everyone sets goals, and my goal has always been to hit 30 home runs and [have] 100 RBIs, but the 100 is more important than anything for me. It's a long season, so you just got to get them where you can." Burrell understands that he's going to collect his share of strikeouts, especially on inside pitches, and contends that most hitters have difficulty handling similar pitches. He suggested he wasn't prepared to sit out as often as he did in the season's second half, and that affected his timing and confidence.
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"Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, and the problem I've had is not taking advantage of the pitches I should hit," he said. "Then you get to the point in the at-bat where you're behind and have to fight. The biggest thing for me is to be aggressive at pitches in the zone that I can hit and not miss them."When Green spoke out about Burrell's off-the-field activities in December, he suggested that Burrell get his priorities in order. "Guys like him are tough to come by," Green said then. "He has to look in the mirror and recognize where his career is headed. This is a crossroad for him. Pat's a good-looking guy, is single and has a lot of money. That brings distractions. It's how you handle those distractions and whether you can look in the mirror and recognize that maybe those distractions are hurting you." Burrell, who recently got engaged, took exception to Green's words. "It's disappointing to hear things like that," Burrell said. "But I've always thought that anything that doesn't apply to this game is personal and shouldn't be talked about by anybody, let alone people within the organization. I've known Dallas a long time and I believe there was really no harm in what he said. He didn't mean it that way. There's no sense in bringing up things from the past. My time is my time. It's time to move on." Burrell used the phrase "move on" often on Wednesday, and he meant it. He likes his teammates and wants to be a productive part of the lineup. He said his troublesome right foot that bothered him last season, despite having been operated on the previous winter, feels great again, though he said that last season, too. Like most starters, Burrell loathes days off and isn't the happiest guy on the bench. That said, he appeared resigned to his fate last season, when Manuel preferred to use David Dellucci or Jeff Conine in left. Burrell said he was OK with then, and he understands there are no guarantees this season. He'll play as long as he's healthy and productive. "I'm just a piece of the puzzle," he said. "If I'm not playing and we're winning, I have to accept that for what it is. What I was trying to do [in September 2006] was make the most of the time that I was in there. Moving forward, the big thing is me being healthy and being able to be out there for the entire game." In other words, it's time to move on.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.