First baseman Adam LaRoche and left-handed reliever Sean Burnett became free agents this morning when both declined their half of mutual options for the 2013 season, multiple people familiar with the transactions said. The Nationals exercised their half of the $10 million option for LaRoche and a $3.5 million option for Burnett, but both players declined with the belief they can receive a multi-year deal on the open market.
LaRoche and Burnett have said they would like to stay in Washington, and both players and the Nationals are free to negotiate a new contract. But the Nationals will now need to compete with every other team in the market once the clock strikes midnight Saturday, the first day teams can contact free agents from opposing clubs.
LaRoche hit 33 homers and drove in 100 runs this season while winning his first career Gold Glove at first base. His left-handed bat made a significant difference to the Nationals’ lineup this season after he missed the majority of last season with a torn labrum. The first base market is bereft of quality sluggers, and so LaRoche will be in high demand. He wants to stay in Washington, and the sides have been discussing a multi-year deal. The Red Sox and Orioles are the teams with the most obvious first base need.
Burnett has been a mainstay in the Nationals bullpen since they acquired him in a trade with the Pirates midway through the 2009 season. This season, Burnett posted a 2.38 ERA in 70 appearances over 56 2/3 innings. He pitched like an all-star candidate in the first half, and in the second half he pitched with a bone spur in his left elbow that required surgery shortly after the season.
Burnett has a 2.76 ERA over the past three years, mostly pitching in the seventh or eighth inning while collecting nine saves in spot closer duty. For the sake of comparison, Giants left-hander Jeremy Affeldt posted a 3.09 ERA over a similar workload to Burnett the past three seasons, and he is coming off the end of a three-year, $14 million deal.
The Giants, Cardinals and Dodgers are among teams that may be looking for left-handed bullpen help.