The Washington Nationals' organization lost one left-handed reliever to free agency already this winter. 28-year-old Dominican-born lefty Atahualpa Severino signed with Kansas City following a 2012 campaign spent at Triple-A Syracuse in which the pitcher signed as an international free agent by the Expos in 2004 posted a (3-0) record with a 2.81 ERA, 5.20 FIP, 36 BB (6.75 BB/9) and 43 Ks (8.06 K/9) in 46 games and 48.0 IP in his seventh year in the Nats' system. The Nationals also added a left-handed reliever, inking 26-year-old Fernando Abad on a minor league deal after a 2012 season in the Astros' organization in which the Dominican-born pitcher signed as an international free agent by Houston in 2002 was (0-6) with a 5.09 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 19 BB (3.72 BB/9) and 38 Ks (7.43 K/9) in 37 G (6 GS) and 46.0 IP.
The big question when it comes to left-handed relievers this winter, however, is whether or not the Nationals will bring Sean Burnett back for 2013. The 30-year-old lefty finished his fourth season in D.C. with a 2.38 ERA, 2.79 FIP, a career-low 12 BB (1.91 BB/9) and 57 Ks (for a career-high 9.05 K/9) in 70 games and 56.2 IP. Coming off a 2-year/$3.95M dollar deal, Burnett declined the mutual option that would have paid him $3.5M in 2013, opting for free agency at a time when there are few left-handed relievers on the market.
Giants' left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, 33, who put up a 2.70 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 23 walks (3.27 BB/9) and 57 Ks (8.10 K/9) in his 11th major league season in 2012, signed a 3-year/$18M dollar deal with San Francisco already this winter. Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, that the Nats had talked to both Burnett and fellow left-hander Mike Gonzalez and wanted both back in the nation's capital in 2013. Considering the options on the free agent market and the fact that Tom Gorzelanny is currently the only left-handed reliever on the Nationals' 40-Man roster, the Nationals might want to act soon.
Though he had a strong season in 2012, Burnett also had injury issues in 2012. The left-hander experienced tightness in his elbow in July which he said he'd been dealing with for six weeks and he missed time in September with what was described then as nerve irritation in his left elbow. After holding opposing hitters to a .231/.272/.350 line in the first half of the year, opposing hitters had a .298/.345/.385 line against the lefty in the second half of the 2012 season. Burnett pitched just twice in the NLDS with St. Louis, giving up three hits a walk and four runs, three earned in Game 2 before coming back to retire one batter in Game 5 with the Cardinals.
Before Game 4 of the series, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson admitted that Burnett, "... did have a little discomfort toward the end of the season and then he was up and pretty straight in the game that I brought him in, last game in St. Louis." When the season was over, Burnett had surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow. Earlier in his career, Burnett had Tommy John surgery in 2004, four years after the Pittsburgh Pirates had selected him 19th overall in the 1st Round of the 2000 Draft. Johnson told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern in an interview a few weeks back, "I hope we get Sean Burnett back."
Will the Nationals give Burnett a multi-year deal to keep him in the bullpen in 2013 and beyond? Should they? What other options do the Nats have this winter?