All credit goes to former BYB overlord Ian Casselberry for today's free agent target.
Would rather see #Tigers pursue Sean Burnett than Rafael Soriano. Need a left-hander, he's one of the best.— Ian Casselberry (@iancass) December 4, 2012
Who is he?
Washington Nationals left-hander Sean Burnett was 1-2 with a 2.38 ERA/2.79 FIP/2.84 xFIP in 59 2/3 innings last season. These numbers were an improvement over his career 3.58 ERA/4.15 FIP/4.03 xFIP in six seasons with the Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Why should we care?
Because his 2012 season isn't an outlier. He had a 2.14 ERA/2.73 FIP/2.92 xFIP in 2010 and his 2012 BABIP was .331, well above his career mark of .282. His homer rate wasn't bad either and, as someone who paid a little bit of attention to a lot of Nationals games last year, I would attribute his high strand rate to effective managing on the part of Davey Johnson. However, strand rates are highly variable for relievers from year to year given their small innings sample size. Burnett's splits against left-handed hitters are excellent as well; opposing lefties hit just .211/.245/.289 off of him last season.
Why should we stay away?
For the money that Burnett will command (more on that later), he isn't versatile enough for my liking. He's a LOOGY in every sense of the term, allowing a .746 OPS to righties throughout his career compared to a .628 OPS against lefties. Last season, the splits were even more extreme, as he allowed a .767 OPS to righties and a .534 OPS to lefties.
Additionally, I am concerned with the fluctuation in his strikeout rate. Burnett fanned a batter per inning last season, but his career rate is just 6.63 strikeouts per 9 innings. His career-low walk rate of 1.91 batters per 9 inning last season is also something that probably won't happen again in the future considering his career rate is almost double that figure.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I don't think so, but I love the idea. Burnett is one of the better left-handed relievers in the game. He excels in getting left-handed batters out, something the Tigers relievers struggled with last season. However, given the ludicrous money that Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt just signed for despite being three years older -- 3 years, $21 million in case you needed to Google it -- I don't see why Burnett would accept a lot less. Breaking my trend of predicting contract amounts, I think Burnett will see something in the $4-5 million range. I don't think the Tigers will be that team.