It’s been a week since the Nationals signed Edwin Jackson, a deal that seemed to blanket John Lannan’s future here in uncertainty. The Nationals have seven or eight viable starters competing for five spots, and based on contract and service time considerations, Lannan became widely regarded as the Nationals’ most expendable (read: tradeable) starter.
But Lannan said he reacted to Thursday’s deal without any of those sentiments racing through his head. Shortly after he finished a workout this afternoon, Lannan said in a phone conversation that he welcomed Jackson’s addition, and that the deal had no effect on his outlook for the 2012 season.
“I think Edwin is a great pitcher,” Lannan said. “It’s going to increase an already competitive environment. It’s going to help the rotation. I think it’s a great move for the team.”
Lannan paid no attention to the trade speculation involving his name that followed the Jackson signing, “despite some people making me aware of it,” he said.
Nationals officials have indicated they plan on taking all of their starters to spring training, and if a trade happens, it’ll come during the spring. How they’ll find room for all their starters remains to be seen, but the Nationals do need the innings, and insurance, with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Chien-Ming Wang all still coming off recent surgeries, to varying degrees.
For Lannan, a trade might be the best outcome, even if it would separate him from the only team he’s known. Any team that traded for Lannan would surely want to slot him into its rotation, and he’s certainly qualified, having posted a 4.00 ERA over 716 1/3 innings since 2008. The Nationals, meantime, are overstocked with starters, and he would need to secure his spot during spring training.
But Lannan said he’s not thinking of his situation in those terms.
“I‘ve spent my whole career with the Nationals,” Lannan said. “I’ve loved my time in D.C. I really haven’t thought about the future. I’m preparing like I’m going to be in D.C. and start every five days, like I always have. For now, I’m going to be in D.C. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Lannan, one of only three players remaining from the 25-man roster General Manager Mike Rizzo inherited when he took over in 2009, has been on the Nationals’ major league roster longer than any current player except third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He started opening day in 2009 and 2010. Only Livan Hernandez has started more games since baseball returned to Washington.
Now, if the Nationals indeed hold on to him for the next two weeks, he’s facing the prospect of fighting for a job in the rotation during spring.
“I’ve never taken my spot for granted,” Lannan said. “I’ve always felt like I had to earn a spot. The game always gives, and it can always take away. I feel I’ve always had to earn a spot. It’s good for the team. It’s going to bring out a lot in guys that we haven’t seen. Like Mike always says, the best 25 goes north. I’m preparing right now and ready to prove my case.”
The Nationals’ signing of Jackson became public hours after Lannan learned he had lost his arbitration trial against the Nationals. He felt his agency, CAA, made an “excellent case on my behalf,” Lannan said. “That’s why the process is there. I’m just happy that I have a contract. I walked away not taking anything personally – if anything, learning where I need to improve.”
Lannan has not spoken with Rizzo since Wednesday night, after his arbitration hearing ended and before he lost the case and the Nationals signed Jackson. But they had an amicable chat, one that affirmed Lannan’s approach.
“From what I heard from him, we’re on the same page as far as getting ready going into spring,” Lannan said. “We talked about how I should be in position to be ready to take it to the next level. I’m going into camp ready to go pitch every fifth day. I really don’t pay attention to any outside talk.”
That’s another sign of Lannan’s mental toughness. Remember, he had to pitch his way back to the majors in 2010 after a six-week demotion to Class AA, and last year he bounced back after a line drive drilled him in the face. He’s proven his resilience.
While we’re on the topic of Lannan, one more thing: The idea that the Nationals could trade Lannan to the Angels for Peter Bourjos, which has bubbled up in some circles, is patently absurd. Lannan is a good pitcher who’ll probably make about $13 million over the next two seasons, then become eligible for free agency. Bourjos is among the best defensive center fielders in baseball, and he will make the league minimum the next two years, after which he’ll be under team control as arbitration eligible for three more seasons.
The Nationals internally discussed trading for Bourjos this winter, along with several other names, including Adam Jones of the Orioles. But they surely know it’s unrealistic to think Lannan alone would net them a player like either of those two.