With seven starting pitchers to fill five spots, the Nationals are the rare team with a glut of capable starting pitchers, one of baseball’s most valuable commodities. The rest of the league has taken notice. “In the baseball annals, the word gets out and people do the math,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “They see we have too many starters for too many spots.”
They also have, in John Lannan, a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter – one who produced a 3.70 ERA in 33 starts last year and has exceeded 200 innings in a season – that is currently looking outside-in. While many in baseball expect Lannan will be traded, the Nationals are not pushing to deal him.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of interest” in Lannan, Rizzo said. “I haven’t made any calls. I’ve fielded several calls. … But, again, this is way too early to say we have too much starting pitching.”
Rizzo categorically said the Nationals have not made an effort to trade Lannan at this point.
“I am not actively shopping him,” Rizzo said. “I haven’t actively shopped him all year, all winter.”
The Nationals can afford to bide their time, and they are adamant about not accepting less in a trade than they expect. They can – and are prepared to – option Lannan to the minor leagues, although they would be paying him $5 million to pitch in Class AAA Syracuse.
Despite the glut of starters they created by trading for Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, the Nationals have ample motivation to keep Lannan, beyond the fact that he has been a solid contributor for the past four seasons, even on some dreadful teams.
The Nationals face what Rizzo described as “an innings shortage” – they will lose ace Stephen Strasburg after he throws 160 innings, and they cannon be certain Chien-Ming Wang’s surgically repaired right shoulder will hold up. They have Ross Detwiler, a former sixth overall pick who impressed last September, in reserve. But the Nationals will likely need a seventh or even eighth able starter to feel comfortable.
By waiting until at least the eve of the regular season, the Nationals could create a better market for Lannan as other teams suffer attrition in their rotations. And, if one of their starters sustains an injury, they would be able to plug in Lannan.
There is also the future to consider. Lannan is under team control through 2013, one more arbitration-eligible season before he hits free agency. The Nationals could lose both Jackson and Wang in free agency after this season, and so trading Lannan could also create a need for 2013. (They currently control Strasburg, Lannan, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler for 2013, and 2011 draft choice Matt Purke could be on the verge of competing for a spot at that point, too.)
The Nationals could not expect an elite prospect or an answer to their center field quandary in return for Lannan. But they would probably need an above-average prospect, one who could compete to be a back-of-the-rotation starter in the near future.
If the Nationals do not trade Lannan, he could also end up in the Nationals’ bullpen depending how their relievers shake out. They also have a crowded bullpen, with Tom Gorzelanny and Detwiler likely filling two spots and Ryan Mattheus pushing hard. The Nationals may end up trading Gorzelanny, whom some teams have showed interest in, but they will not simply cut him.
The Tigers and Red Sox are two teams with uncertain fifth-starter situations. Contrary to a report by ESPN’s Jim Bowden, the former Washington GM, the Nationals have not received an offer from the Red Sox for Lannan.