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Sean Burnett’s market takes shape

Alex Brandon/AP
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For the past three seasons, Sean Burnett has been the Nationals’ best left-handed reliever, a crucial part to a bullpen that consistently ranked among the game’s best. General Manager Mike Rizzo said he hopes to re-sign Burnett, and now the Nationals and the rest of baseball should have a good idea of what it will take.

Over the weekend, according to a report by, the Giants and left-hander Jeremy Affeldt neared a deal worth between $15-20 million over three years. Assuming it holds up, that contract helps define Burnett’s market.

Affeldt, who is coming off a two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Giants, may be Burnett’s best comparable on the free agent market. They are both left-handers who can get out right-handed hitters. Their roles have been similar, pitching either the seventh or eighth innings, with Burnett saving six games over the past two years in a cameo closer role.

Their stats match up closely, too. There is an instructive stat called ERA+ that works like OPS+ – it is a pitcher’s ERA calculated based on ballpark factors with 100 being the league average. Last year, Affeldt had a 130 ERA+ in 63 1/3 innings, and Burnett had a 167 ERA+ in 56 2/3 innings. Over the past three years, Affeldt has a 117 ERA+ in 175 innings, and Burnett has a 144 ERA+ in 176 1/3 innings.

Burnett’s value is a boosted a bit by his small closing experienced, having collected nine saves in three years when called on in a pinch. Affeldt has no saves, but he has been nails for the Giants in two World Series runs. Burnett, 30, is three years younger. Over the last three years, Burnett has the better strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.87 to 2.18).

Both pitchers have been durable. Burnett pitched during the second half of the season with a bone spur in his left elbow, and he had surgery shortly after the season to remove it. The operation is not expected to even affect Burnett’s offseason throwing program.

With Affeldt apparently close to re-signing, Burnett would figure to find his home quickly, whether it be back in Washington or with one of several suitors. For teams looking for a pitcher like them, there aren’t many other options. The Cardinals and Dodgers both need left-handed relief help, and five or six other teams figure to have interest, too.

A free agent for the first time, Burnett made $3.7 million over the past two years and declined a mutual option worth $3.5 million prior to becoming a free agent this winter. As Affeldt’s pact shows, Burnett could expect perhaps $5 million per season and a three-year deal.

The Nationals are trying to reshuffle their bullpen with both Burnett and fellow lefty Michael Gonzalez on the free agent market. They now know the rough price it will take to sign Burnett.