The Nationals made a rare, bold decision when they optioned John Lannan – which the team announced after The Post’s earlier report – in favor of Ross Detwiler. Lannan becomes the highest-paid player ever optioned to the minors before the end of spring training, and also the first healthy pitcher to post a sub-4.00 ERA and get optioned to the minors before the end of the following spring. A few quick thoughts:
>>> By sending Lannan to the minors, the Nationals will stunt Lannan’s service time clock as he stands two years away from free agency, and one year from a big payday in his final arbitration-eligible season. The Nationals have no obligation to act in any player’s best financial interest, or in any interest other than their own. Let the record show this was a cold-blooded, baseball-first move that involved a longtime contributor – a popular pitcher who ranked as the second longest tenured National. To do what they believed helped their chances to win in 2012 most, the Nationals in no small way harmed Lannan, a reliable, valuable contributor through some miserable seasons. That’s the business.
>>> The Nationals could have had both Lannan and Detwiler in their rotation had they not signed Edwin Jackson late in the winter. But they saw an innings shortage with Wang’s injury history and Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit, and so they committed $11 million to Jackson for one year. In effect, knowing they may option Lannan and his $5 million salary, the Nationals raised the possibility of devoting $16 million to one spot in the rotation. Now, they are. Savvy? Not necessarily. Proof of a willingness to spend? Sure. Bold? Insane? You pick.
>>> The consensus around baseball this spring was that Lannan would not bring much in return in a trade. Sending him to the minors will not help his stock. The Nationals will either have to come down from their price or hang on to Lannan – which, given their desire to stock rotation depth, they would be fine with. Lannan, who is surely hurt and angry, could still throw some important innings this year for the Nationals. Whether he wants to wear that uniform again? I’m interested to hear what he says.
>>> The Nationals obviously believe in Detwiler. It is costing them a lot of money to put him in the rotation ahead of Lannan. They did not need to do that. The easy, business-savvy decision would have been to put Lannan in the rotation and Detwiler in bullpen. But they chose ceiling over track record – and Detwiler seems awfully close to nearing his potential. He was electric this spring, especially in his one start, against the Marlins.
Mike Rizzo spent the spring saying the Nationals would take the best 25 north. Whether Lannan is better than Detwiler is a different debate. But the Nationals quite clearly put financial interest last and what they believed to be the best baseball decision first.