17 minutes before the 2009 Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals agreed on a deal that sent the Nats' veteran first baseman Nick Johnson to the Fish for left-handed pitching prospect Aaron Thompson. Thompson, an '05 1st Round pick, taken 22nd overall out of Second Baptist High School in Houston, Texas, (with a compensatory pick the Marlins had received from San Francisco when the Giants signed Armando Benitez), lasted all of 33 starts in the Nats' system before he was placed on waivers yesterday in an attempt to clear a spot on Washington's 40-man roster for recently-signed veteran outfielder Rick Ankiel, at which point Thompson was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, leaving the Nationals with nothing to show for the trade that sent Nick Johnson from the nation's capital.
The Nationals successfully passed Matt Chico through waivers earlier this week as no team placed a claim on the 27-year-old left-hander, but Thompson, who'll turn 24 this winter was claimed by the Pirates, according to Bucs' GM Neal Huntington, "for his potential," as he told MLB.com writer Jenifer Langosch yesterday in an article entitled, "Bucs claim southpaw Thompson from Nats":
"'We have a number of good scouting reports over a handful of years, and those combined with some positive statistical indicators beyond the conventional ERA and won-loss record supported the claim. We believe we can positively impact his growth and development.'"
In 27 starts and 141.2 IP in the Nats' system last season in Double-A Harrisburg and in one outing with Triple-A Syracuse, Thompson, taken one spot before Red Sox' outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in the first round of the '05 Draft and described by D.C. GM Mike Rizzo to then Washington Post beat writer Chico Harlan in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Trade Deadline Moves: Johnson To Florida, Beimel To Colorado", as a potential "future middle-of-the-rotation pitcher," when he was acquired in July of '09, had posted a 5.65 ERA with 10.7 H/9 and 3.5 BB/9 allowed and 6.3 K/9 collected in his one full season with Washington.
The Nats did, however, sign a former Pirates' pitcher yesterday, inking 28-year-old 2000 1st Round Draft pick Sean Burnett to a two-year/$3.7 million dollar extension, avoiding going to arbitration with the left-hander who became an important part of the Nats' bullpen last season, in his second year with the team after the June '09 trade with Pittsburgn that sent RHP Joel Hanrahan and OF Lastings Milledge to the Pirates for Burnett and Nats' CF Nyjer Morgan.
In 73 appearances and 63.0 IP last season, Burnett recorded three saves (he's up for the closer's role this year acc. to Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman), struck out 62 batters (8.9 K/9) and walked 20 (2.9 BB/9) for a 3.1/1 K/BB ratio with a OBP against of just .284, slugging percentage against of .297 and a 71.6% ground-ball percentage as the Nats' pointed out in a press release yesterday announcing the holiday signing. In his time with the Nats, the lefty has K'd 8.4 batters per 9.0 IP and held opponents to a .203 BAA, including a .170 mark against right-handers after he held right-handed bats to a .182/.253/.234 line last season, though he struggled against left-handed hitting (comparatively at least) allowing lefties to hit .273/.327/.384 against him in 2010.
Asked about Burnett's success in a late-season press conference, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman couldn't say enough good things about the left-hander:
"[Burnett's] been unbelievable," Riggleman said, "our bullpen in general has just done a great job, but for "Burnie" to be getting lefties and righties out for us the way he does and to be up as much as we've had him up, we've had him in a lot of games, but he's been up a lot, and I say the same thing about [Tyler] Clippard and [Joel] Peralta, both of them, along with Burnie, they've been asked to do a lot for us and our bullpen has got more innings pitched than anybody in baseball so, for them to be going this strong this late in the year, it's really a testament to their preparation and the confidence that they're building."
Peralta won't be back next season, he and the Nats couldn't agree on a deal (Peralta reportedly wanted two years), and he was allowed to leave earlier this winter, signing a one-year/$925,000 dollar deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but Clippard, Burnett and '09 1st Round pick Drew Storen will be back (if Storen, whose name has come up in trade talks remains a Nat) and all three will be competing for the closer's role in D.C. The Nats' bullpen is one thing the team's identified as a strength heading into 2011, though the team has mentioned at times that a more-established late-inning-option could still be acquired this Winter.