Sean Burnett's contract with the Nationals contains a $3.5MM mutual option for the 2013 season, but the left-hander is expected to decline his portion in hopes of securing a multi-year deal, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Burnett's decision doesn't necessarily spell the end of his time with the Nats. His "first priority," writes Ladson, is to return to the Nationals on a new contract.
Burnett signed a two-year, $3.95MM extension with Washington in December of 2010. He rewarded general manager Mike Rizzo with 113 1/3 innings of 3.10 ERA ball to go along with a 7.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and also picked up six saves. He was particularly effective this past season, tallying a 2.38 ERA with career-best marks of 9.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 57.4 percent ground-ball rate. Since the beginning of the 2011 season, only eight left-handers have topped Burnett's 139 relief appearances.
Burnett could look to multi-year deals given out to left-handed relievers over the past several years, perhaps targeting something in the two-year, $8-9MM range. Fellow southpaws Javier Lopez ($8.5MM), Pedro Feliciano ($8MM) and Hisanori Takahashi ($8MM) all signed for similar totals. Burnett could also look to recent extensions for Sean Marshall (three years, $16.5MM) and Glen Perkins (three years, $10.3MM), though Burnett hasn't been as dominant as either of that pair.
Burnett was originally acquired from the Pirates along with Nyjer Morgan in a trade that sent Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge to the Buccos. If and when Burnett declines his option, the Nationals will not have to pay him the $250K buyout they hold over their own half of the option.
Should he decides to entertain offers from other teams, the 30-year-old Burnett's combination of youth, effectiveness and durability will make him one of the top southpaw relievers on the free agent market.