Nats don't expect Burnett to return

Nats don't expect Burnett to return
December 3, 2012, 6:45 pm
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What is the Nats No. 1 priority at the winter meetings?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals are resigned to the fact they aren't likely to re-sign Sean Burnett.

With as many as eight clubs in the mix for a left-handed reliever who could command a three-year contract in the neighborhood of $15 million, general manager Mike Rizzo all but conceded defeat this evening.

"We like Sean. We'd like to bring him back. But it has to make sense for us," Rizzo said. "And right now, I don't see a fit financially or term-wise. But he hasn't signed with anybody yet. We'll see where it leads us."

Burnett is the best available lefty on the market this winter after posting a 2.38 ERA in 70 appearances for the Nationals last season. He's the rare reliever who has established a track record of consistency and durability, boasting a 2.85 ERA while appearing in 283 games over the last four years (third-most in the majors).

Despite that track record, the Nationals are reluctant to make a long-term commitment to Burnett -- or any reliever -- given the typical volatility of the position.

They'll need to fill Burnett's role, however, and prefer for his replacement to be left-handed. Veteran Michael Gonzalez, who had a 3.03 ERA in 47 games for the Nationals last season, is a candidate to return on a one-year deal.

Fellow lefty Zach Duke, who signed a one-year contract of his own today, will be used as a long reliever and potential starter in case of injury.

"We'd like to get a second left-hander [in addition to Duke]," Rizzo said. "It's not a necessity, because our right-handers get out lefties so well. But in a perfect world, we'd like to get a second left-hander in the bullpen."

As things currently stand, the Nationals are looking at a bullpen of closer Drew Storen, setup man Tyler Clippard, Duke and right-handers Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez.

Right-hander Christian Garcia, who impressed out of the bullpen in September and made the postseason roster, will be stretched out next spring to potentially become a starter either in Washington or at Class AAA Syracuse.

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