Nationals sign Sean Burnett to two-year extension

The Nationals have locked up a key piece of their bullpen for at least the next two years, signing left-hander Sean Burnett to a two-year extension with a mutual option for 2013, according to a source close to the reliever. Burnett will make a combined $3.7 million the next two seasons, and stands to earn $3.5 million in the option year. The deal is not official yet, but it could be announced this afternoon if the results of a physical show no problems.

Burnett is coming off a stellar 2010 season, during which he posted a 2.14 ERA and emerged as one of the Nationals’ best late-inning relievers. He started throwing a slider to right-handers, at the behest of catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and got righties out at a .182 clip - which was actually 91 points better than he fared against lefties. Advanced statistics showed Burnett was the team’s best reliever in 2010, and manager Jim Riggleman often called on him for more than an inning.

Burnett saved three games after the Nationals traded Matt Capps, and at the very least, figures to be among the options for the eighth and ninth innings.

The contract buys out Burnett’s final two years of arbitration, and the option would cover his first year of free agency. He drew plenty of interest from other clubs in trades last summer, and it stands to reason that interest would have carried over into the start of free agency. But by locking Burnett up now, the Nationals could have saved themselves some money down the road.