The Nationals are one of eight teams still interested in left-handed reliever Sean Burnett, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Nationals currently have no left-handed relievers under contract for 2013, and Burnett, a key cog in the Nationals’ bullpen for the past three-plus seasons, is the best remaining left-handed reliever on the free agent market.
After he posted a 2.38 ERA over 56 2/3 innings last season, Burnett will likely command a contract similar to the three-year, $18 million deal fellow lefty Jeremy Affeldt signed with the San Francisco Giants earlier this winter.
The Nationals will have stiff competition to sign Burnett. The Angels, Brewers and Cardinals, among others, all need left-handed arms in their bullpens, and Burnett represents the best option.
With no lefties in their current bullpen, the Nationals may have to look elsewhere. One free agent name that they have discussed is J.P. Howell, who spent the past seven years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Howell, 29, punched up a 3.04 ERA in 50 1/3 innings last season with 42 strikeouts and 22 walks.
Howell throws an unconventional, sweeping fastball that starts toward a right-handed hitter’s thigh and darts over the plate. The pitch allows him to get out right-handed batters, which is something Burnett excelled at for a left-hander.
A couple other nuggets from Nashville:
>>> Updating last night’s post on Danny Espinosa trade discussions, at least one team other than the Rays called the Nationals about Espinosa. Other clubs are the one initiating any talks about Espinosa. The more you ask around, the more you realize that it would be very, very hard for Rizzo to deal Espinosa, even while other members of the organization would be willing to deal him.
>>> Outfielder Rick Ankiel, whom the Nationals designated for assignment this summer, wants to play next season. Ankiel, 33, hit .228/.282/.411 in limited time before the Nationals let him go on July 19. Ankiel took the rest of the season off as his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child.
>>> A name to watch in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday: Class A Potomac reliever Rob Wort. The Nationals left him unprotected after he struck out a ridiculous 15.1 hitters per nine innings and posted a 2.38 ERA. One opposing scout said a non-contending team could stash him in the bullpen for a year, even if he’s never pitched above Class A.