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Sean Burnett departs for L.A.; Nationals now eyeing lefty J.P Howell

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Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher J.P. Howell delivers to the Oakland Athletics during the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Oakland won 4-2. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Washington Nationals parted ways with left-hander Sean Burnett on Wednesday when Burnett agreed to a two-year deal with a club option with the Los Angeles Angels.

The deal, which was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the agreement, is worth $8 million with a $4.5 million option, according to the Los Angeles Times. It is pending a physical.

That is south of the three years, $18 million that lefty Jeremy Affeldt got from the San Francisco Giants but still a $2.45 million raise per season over what Burnett made in 2012 for the Nationals.

Burnett had a 2.38 ERA in 2012 in 56⅔ innings and was valuable for his ability to get both left-handers and right-handers out. He also pitched much of the second half with a bone spur in his left elbow, which was removed after the season.

The Nationals, on the other hand, turned their focus toward J.P Howell, the former Rays reliever who had a 3.04 ERA in 50⅓ innings this past season.

The winter meetings don’t end until midmorning Thursday, but several Nationals executives, having accomplished almost all of their main offseason goals, left the Gaylord Opryland Hotel on Wednesday.

Owner Mark Lerner, general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson left Nashville on Wednesday afternoon with Rizzo and Lerner returning to Washington just in time to greet right-handed starter Dan Haren as he arrived for his physical.

“You know, we didn’t have a whole big wish list,” Johnson said.

One of their remaining items was adding a left-handed reliever, and they were comfortable that they could continue that search from Washington. Johnson, who managed Howell in the past for Team USA, likes what he could bring to the team.

The market for the 29-year-old to this point has been somewhat difficult to discern. But with Burnett and lefty specialist Randy Choate, who signed a three-year deal with the Cardinals, off the board, it likely leaves the Nationals competing with at least the Brewers for Howell’s services.

Burnett’s deal could help lower the cost of Howell for the Nationals as many evaluators view him as just a tier below Burnett, talentwise. Michael Gonzalez, Manny Parra, Tom Gorzelanny and George Sherrill are other left-handers available.

The Nationals at first hoped they might be able to retain Burnett, but ultimately Rizzo didn’t “see a fit financially or termwise.” He will no doubt be missed in Washington. where he was a popular teammate and favorite of Johnson.

Optimism for LaRoche deal

Most of the Nationals’ contingent also left without getting a resolution on the negotiations with Adam LaRoche, but officials remain optimistic something could get done before Christmas. They’re also looking for starting pitching depth, likely to keep at Triple-A the way they did with Zach Duke and John Lannan in 2012.

LaRoche, though, remains their top priority, and his signing likely would result in moving Michael Morse, who has drawn interest from several teams. A deal involving Morse could help replenish a farm system that’s been depleted of some of it’s best prospects and starting pitching depth by the team’s recent trades.

“I won’t really sleep real comfortable until [LaRoche agrees],” said Johnson said, who believes a deal will be reached.

“I hope that gets worked out,” he said. “Everybody knows each other. Everybody has a lot of comfort zone, not just on the field but in the clubhouse. I had him at my golf tournament, and I told him, ‘You don’t want to go somewhere and be miserable. You know you’re going to have a good time in D.C.’ We’ll see … That’d be a nice Christmas present. That would put the icing on the cake.”

Notes

• The Rule 5 draft Thursday holds little interest for the Nationals as they don’t plan to select anyone — and have no room on the roster for a selection anyway. They’re expecting to lose a player or two, though, with pitcher Rob Wort among the candidates to go.

• Only Roger Bernadina has been asked to participate in the World Baseball Classic thus far, agreeing to play for the Netherlands. Rizzo has said he’d hope his players could help Team USA field a strong team, but agent Scott Boras told reporters on Wednesday he did not expect Bryce Harper to play.

About the Author

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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