Looking Ahead: Sean Burnett's 2013 Option

As I mentioned earlier this week, GM Mike Rizzo does not have any contract option decisions to make this offseason with regards to the team’s 2012 roster. He does, however, have two facing the team at the end of next season. We’ve already taken a look at Adam LaRoche‘s option, so let’s wrap things up with the other decision the team will face – Sean Burnett.

2013 – $3.5 Million mutual option ($250,000 buyout)

The 2011 season saw Burnett continue to develop into a vital piece of the Washington bullpen despite a dip in performance. In 69 appearances (56.2 innings) the left-hander posted a 5-5 record, 3.81 ERA, and saved 4 games while striking out 5.2/9 and walking 3.3/9. The season was a far cry from his strong 2010 campaign (1-7, 2.14 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 63.0 innings) which earned him a two year contract prior to the 2011 season that essentially covered his final two years of arbitration.  The deal paid the reliever $1.4 Million for the 2011 season and is scheduled to pay him $2.3 Million in 2012.

Image: mlbphotos.com

Burnett was originally a first round draft pick (#19 overall) in 2000 by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He worked primarily as a starter for much of his minor league career before making his debut during the 2004 season. He would make 13 starts for Pittsburgh that year, going 5-5 with a 5.02 ERA in 71.2 innings.

Shoulder and elbow problems kept him off the field for the entirety of the 2005 season. The once top prospect would find himself back in Triple-A for the 2006 and 2007 seasons, once again working out of the starting rotation but with limited results. In 2008 the Pirates finally moved Burnett to the bullpen where he has seemingly flourished since.

The Nationals originally acquired Burnett in a July 2009 trade (along with Nyjer Morgan) in exchange for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge. Since that acquisition he has been a big part of the Nationals bullpen, often pitching the seventh innings while serving as more than just your typical LOOGY. The pitcher’s longevity with the Nationals will likely depend largely on what he does this upcoming season.

Considering his history and role in the bullpen, it would seem safe to presume that the Nationals would like to keep Burnett under contract for the 2013 season. Yes, his 2011 performance was a disappointment considering the year he had in 2010, but it shouldn’t be taken as a sign that Burnett isn’t worth keeping on the team’s roster. The first half of 2011 he was largely inconsistent. However, after the All Star Break, he turned things around dramatically.

1st Half: 31.2 IP, 3-5 record, 5.40 ERA, 0.761 opponent’s OPS

2nd Half: 25.0 IP, 2-0, 1.80, 0.623

If Burnett can have a 2012 season along the same lines of his 2011 second half then he will certainly have earned a place on the 2013 Nationals, making a decision to exercise their side of the option an easy decision. However, if he is able to put up numbers along those lines over the course of a full season, there is a solid chance that Burnett will have earned himself a multi-year deal on the free agent market. He could, under such a scenario, earn more per season than the $3.5 Million that the option would pay him for the 2013 season.

Should Burnett decline his side of the option in order to test the free agent market he will forfeit the buyout entirely. However, that could be a moot point depending on what he is able to earn on the free agent market. The 2013 expected free agent market isn’t flush with left-handed pitching options (Sean Marshall and J.P. Howell are the only other options who will be 30 or younger) and a strong season could reasonably see Burnett field numerous offers.

A year from now we’ll have a better idea of what might happen. It seems logical to think the Nationals will want to exercise their side of the option. Whether Burnett wants to stay will likely depend on how much he and his agent feel he is worth after this next season.

Tags: Sean Burnett Washington Nationals

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