As John Lannan reported for opening day at Class AAA Syracuse this morning, the Nationals dug in and did not change their stance in the wake of the trade request Lannan made public Wednesday night.
General Manager Mike Rizzo called the trade interest for Lannan “mild” and remains staunchly against trading Lannan for anything less than the price he deems fit – a price teams who have called him with interest in Lannan have not come close to meeting. Effectively, the Nationals have, in Lannan, an asset that could help later in the season, and they are not willing to give it away.
“We’re not trading him,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We’re keeping him.”
In an e-mail to reporters Wednesday night, Lannan responded to the Nationals optioning him to the minors by saying, “I am certainly disappointed in the Nationals’ decision. … I know what my rights and the team’s rights are, and while I am still a member of the Washington Nationals organization, I let Mike know that I believe a trade would be the best solution for everyone in both the short and long term.”
Lannan started opening day for the Nationals in 2009 and 2010. He established himself as a major league pitcher by throwing 716 1/3 innings over the past four seasons, posting a career-best 3.70 ERA and 10 wins last season. He will make $5 million this season, making the highest-paid player in baseball history to be optioned during spring training.
“John was frustrated,” Rizzo said. “I’ve known John Lannan a long time. He’s an ultra competitive person. And he’s frustrated and upset and mad. If he was any other way, I would wonder about him. This guy has been a solid contributor to this franchise for a long time. He’s a good, solid starting pitcher in the big leagues.”
Under the rules of the basic agreement, Lannan had 72 hours to join Syracuse, which opens their season today at home. Lannan chose to report a day earlier than he had to, showing up for the opener.
“I trust John Lannan is going to be an ultra professional like he’s been throughout his career in Washington,” Rizzo said. “The last thing I told him was that, ‘You’re going to help us in the big leagues this year, or you’re going to help somebody in the big leagues this year.’ That was the final statement that I made to him.”
About a week before camp broke, Johnson anointed Lannan the fifth starter, saying “John’s my guy.” Johnson did not regret making the pronouncement. He felt that way at the time, but in the end Ross Detwiler, in the Nationals’ view, beat Lannan out for a starting spot.
“It became clear that the few starts he was going to get before Chien-Ming Wang comes back, we’d be better off as an organization giving them to Det,” Johnson said. “Now, I know John Lannan is a good pitcher, but we’re still developing Det. So it was an organizational decision, which I totally went along with.”
Neither the Nationals nor Lannan felt comfortable with him pitching out of the bullpen, Rizzo said. The Nationals could have pitched Detwiler out of the bullpen and preserved the rotation spot for Lannan. But Rizzo believed Detwiler gave the Nationals a better chance at success.
“We felt we had five guys better than him,” Rizzo said. This is about bringing the best 25 north and about winning games in 2012 and beyond. We felt Ross Detwiler allowed us to win games in 2012 and beyond. This is a young stud that we feel is going to be a part of our long-term puzzle. … I felt I was doing him and the other 24 men on the team a disservice by hiding him in the bullpen and pitching him in mop-up roles.”