Friday afternoon reporter Chris Cotillo broke the news that the Washington Nationals had acquired veteran left-handed reliever Sean Burnett from the Minnesota Twins for cash considerations. He will report to Triple-A Syracuse and provides a potentially intriguing piece of left-handed depth for Washington.
Many will remember Burnett from his previous stint in Washington from 2009-2012, when he established himself as one of the top lefties in the National League. The Nationals acquired Burnett, along with Nyjer Morgan, in June 2009 from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge.
Furthermore Burnett spent spring training with the Nationals this spring, but requested his release when he was told he would not make the Opening Day roster. He has spent this season at Triple-A for the Braves, Dodgers and Twins, posting a 1.91 ERA and 28 strikeouts against 14 walks in 42.1 innings pitched. Of note, Burnett has allowed only a .164/.203/.236 batting line over 55 at-bats against left-handed hitters this season.
Once one the top starting pitching prospects in baseball, early career injuries forced Burnett to reinvent himself as a reliever who combined good deception with a solid sinker, slider and changeup to get outs. The 33-year-old rarely touches 90mph, but is productive because he limits his walks and hits allowed.
Typically a trade for Triple-A depth on an August Friday would go unnoticed, but this transaction has a chance to be impactful down the stretch. Washington just lost LHP Sammy Solis to left-shoulder tendonitis, a particularly large concern considering his past shoulder injuries. The other lefty in their bullpen, Oliver Perez, has struggled this season to a 5.61 ERA, 4.49 FIP and a .698 OPS allowed against lefties. The Nationals have LHP Matt Grace on the 40-man roster and Nick Lee and Bryan Harper in the minor leagues, but might feel more comfortable turning to the veteran Burnett to get lefties out than that inexperienced trio.
If Burnett continues to get Triple-A hitters out the next 10 days or so, do not be surprised if he receives a promotion to Washington when rosters expand in September, or possibly before. Every team needs bullpen depth in September, but the Nationals could particularly use additional arms to spell some veterans if they capture the division crowd with games to spare.
Another potential benefit of this deal is this could “rattle the cage” of Oliver Perez, who is under contract for next season. This deal is the definition of a low-risk / medium reward trade and the potential benefit of Burnett have a two-month run of excellence, or Perez regaining his focus, is greater than parting with a small cash sum. Not all moves are major, but these are often the deals that separate mediocre front offices from the elite – This is a good gamble for the Nationals.