Veteran left-handed reliever Sean Burnett has announced his retirement from baseball in a lengthy, heartfelt statement via the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff (Twitter links). The 36-year-old southpaw had been pitching for the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate before deciding to call it career.
Burnett last saw big league action with the Nationals in 2016 — one of many comeback attempts from a clearly talented pitcher whose promising career was decimated by injuries. As Burnett notes in his statement, he underwent four different surgeries — two of them Tommy John procedures — over a professional career that spanned parts of 19 seasons.
Originally selected by the Pirates with the No. 19 overall pick in 2000, Burnett was regarded as one of the game’s pitching prospects prior to his MLB debut, twice landing on Baseball America’s Top 100 list (including a No. 25 placement in 2003). His rookie campaign in 2004 was rough around the edges, as evidenced by a 5.02 ERA in 71 2/3 innings, but Burnett also showcased his upside with a complete-game shutout in just his sixth career start. The fact that said shutout took place in Montreal against the Expos is a testament to the length of Burnett’s career and the tireless effort he put into striving to return from the injury woes he faced.
Arm troubles shelved Burnett for the entire 2005 season, and he wouldn’t make it back to a big league mound until 2008, at which point he’d transitioned to a relief role on a full-time basis. He was eventually traded from the Pirates to the Nationals, alongside Nyjer Morgan, in the deal that sent Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge to Pittsburgh. Burnett was already throwing well at the time of the swap but stepped up his game over the next three and a half seasons in D.C., working to a combined 2.81 ERA and handling plenty of high-leverage spots ( 71 holds, 10 saves).
That strong run led Burnett to ink a two-year, $8MM contract with the Angels in free agency. Unfortunately for both Burnett and the Halos, he pitched just 10 1/3 innings over the life of that contract due to one of the aforementioned Tommy John procedures. From that point forth, Burnett battled myriad health issues as signed numerous minor league deals in an effort to return to the big leagues — a goal he achieved in that brief 2016 showing with the Nationals.
All in all, Burnett’s career will come to a close with a 3.52 ERA in 378 1/3 innings of work at the MLB level, though on can only wonder what type of success he might’ve had with better health. That said, the majority of fans and players alike would be thrilled to appear in 380 Major League games, toss a shutout, collect 91 holds and 10 saves, and earn a bit north of $13MM in salary along the way. In addition to his time with the Pirates, Nats and Angels, Burnett also pitched in the minor league ranks for the Mets, Twins, Marlins, Dodgers and Braves (plus the Phillies in Spring Training 2017). Best wishes to the lefty in his post-playing endeavors.