When the Washington Nationals re-signed right-hander Chien-Ming Wang this past November, the deal with the soon-to-turn 32-year-old starter gave the Nats an enviable collection of arms that included Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan and Wang, with right-hander Brad Peacock and lefties Tom Milone and Ross Detwiler battling it out as options to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. "I think that we have great depth there," D.C. GM MIke Rizzo told reporters when asked about all the pitching in the organization, "We have great talent and we have upper rotation guys, we have some middle of the rotation guys and we've got some back-of-the-rotation guys. We've got a great minor league system. We've got guys that are knocking on the door and probably should be pitching in the big leagues this coming season and may not be. I think that's a tribute to where we're at as an organization."
Some of the mystery about which pitchers would be in the major league rotation on Opening Day was cleared up by the deal with Oakland that sent both Peacock and Milone (along with A.J. Cole and Derek Norris) to the A's in exchange for 26-year-old left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez would join Strasburg and Zimmermann at the top of the rotation along with one of either Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler or John Lannan. But then the Nats signed Edwin Jackson, explaining that they thought they had an innings shortage that needed to be addressed with Wang, Strasburg and Zimmermann in varying stages of recovery from their respective medical procedures.
Chien-Ming Wang, coming off a two-year hiatus following shoulder surgery is not thought to be suited for a relief role. Detwiler is out of options. So immediately the chatter started. The Nationals were "aggressively shopping" Lannan around the league. Though the Nats' GM acknowledged that Lannan did have an option remaining, he told reporters at the time, "We feel that [Lannan is] a major league pitcher. He's major league caliber and he's major league-ready to help a contending team and we feel that he's a solid major league starting pitcher and that's what we're going to use him as."
Was it a general manager selling opposing GM's on the value of a pitcher he'd potentially considering dealing? That's possible of course. Rizzo admitted the team would consider any trade that would help improve the Nats. "We're certainly always open to [making] a deal that makes sense for us, and if it can improve the ballclub," Rizzo said when the rumors about the Nats' shopping Lannan were mentioned, "but we did not acquire Edwin Jackson to trade another starting pitcher."
Still the rumors have persisted. Just this weekend, MLB.com's Bill Ladson, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo and former D.C. GM Jim Bowden discussed the possibility that Lannan will get dealt this Spring, with Mr. Bowden mentioning that the Boston Red Sox had made an offer that was not close to what Washington was expecting in return. A "major league source" in a report out of Boston later refuted the rumors that an offer had been made for Lannan. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal (who'd originally reported that the Nats were "aggresively shopping" Lannan around the league), wrote this morning in an article entitled, "Can Braves overcome sluggish start?" that the Nationals were still looking to deal the 27-year-old left-hander.
"The Nationals, lacking an opening in their rotation, want to clear Lannan’s $5 million salary. One source mentioned the Tigers as a possibility..."
Could the Nationals start Lannan at Triple-A? As noted above, Rizzo did say that the left-hander has an option and Nats' skipper Davey Johnson too mentioned it as a possibility, telling reporters including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, "'It's not a good option, but it's an option,'" before adding that it wasn't a conversation he'd look forward to having with Lannan if that was the decision. Lannan led the team in innings-pitched in three of the last four seasons, he's been the Opening Day starter twice. Rizzo said he considers Lannan a major league pitcher. Lannan's always likely been a back end of the rotation arm, but he was never part of a rotation like the one the Nationals have put together this season. And according to FOXSports.com's Mr. Rosenthal he isn't the only long-time Nat who might not fit into the improved lineup.
The bow-tied reporter wrote this morning that, "The Nationals remain high on shortstop Ian Desmond, but some in the industry view him as a potential weak link for a team that considers itself a contender." It's not the first time, Mr. Rosenthal's quoted sources within the Nats' organization who say they'd prefer a different middle infield combo than the current Desmond/Danny Espinosa duo. "Desmond’s erratic defense remains a concern," Mr. Rosenthal added, "and manager Davey Johnson recently told The Washington Post that he is not enamored of Desmond’s new batting stance." As he did this past July, in discussing trade rumors involving the Nats, the FOXSports.com reporter noted that, "Those in the anti-Desmond camp believe the Nats would be better moving Danny Espinosa to short and playing Steve Lombardozzi at second."
It's a new phenomenon in the nation's capital, but having players that could play on an everyday basis knocking on the door and competing for playing time at the major league level is not a bad problem to have. Is it a question of being "good enough to make it the majors and play on a rebuilding team" and "good enough to compete for a World Series championship" in either of the player's case? Are Lannan and Desmond more valuable in a trade? Can the Nationals go with an unproven infielder like 23-year-old Steve Lombardozzi if they really think they'll compete? Are they any more likely to compete with Lombardozzi playing every day than they are with Desmond and Espinosa up the middle? And what about Lannan?
Will the Nationals regret dealing Lannan if something happens to Chien-Ming Wang, or is Ross Detwiler (26-years-old to Lannan's 27, and a power left-hander instead of a ground ball machine and double play inducer) who's unproven, but significantly less expensive a better alternative? (ed. note - "Is it odd that money's being talked about as an issue since the Nats actually won the arbitration case w/ Lannan?') Lannan's set to make $5M this year, as mentioned above. Though the arbitration hearing did take place on the same day they signed Edwin Jackson? But again Tuesday night as the Nationals played the Detroit Tigers in Spring Training action, rumors surfaced about Lannan with CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler writing on Twitter (@DKnobler) that the, "Red Sox, Tigers, Astros [are] among teams watching Lannan, who will likely be dealt. Mets and Pads had interest, but $5 mill is too much for them."
Pop Quiz: "How much is Lannan making this year?"
In a follow-up article on the chatter he heard entitled, "Red Sox, Tigers seem most focused on Lannan", the CBSSports' reporter wrote that, "The Red Sox and Tigers are believed to be the teams most focused on John Lannan, with a growing expectation that the Nationals left-hander will be dealt by the end of the spring." They don't have room for Lannan or Detwiler, Mr. Knobler writes, but "The Nationals need to keep some starting depth, because they plan to limit Strasburg's innings and can't be sure how much they can rely on Wang. But sources say they are motivated to move Lannan, who will make $5 million this year." The national baseball writer also mentions that the Nats continue to search for a center fielder...Mike Rizzo's a busy man. Do you think John Lannan will be traded?