Washington Nationals pitcher John Lannan continues to be heavily mentioned in trade rumors across the league, and with good reason. He’s a lefty starter who can eat innings and be solid at the back of the rotation, and that’s exactly why the Nationals shouldn’t trade him… yet.
Lannan is essentially the only starting pitcher remaining on the Nats 40-man roster eligible to be sent down to Triple-A Syracuse. Chien-Ming Wang likely has a lock on the fifth rotation spot with Ross Detwiler ending up in the bullpen, since he’s out of options. On the surface, it seems logical that Lannan would have to be traded considering he was the Opening Day starter for the Nats for two years, he’s due $5 million this season, and the team doesn’t have a spot for him on the big league club. Not to mention trade rumors continue to swirl around the possibility of a Lannan trade from local and national media.
This may not be the best decision for the Nationals at this moment, though. The Nats are entering their most promising season in team history, and it’s largely due to pitching. From top to bottom, the Nationals pitching staff, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, is one of the most impressive in baseball. However, two of the big names in the rotation are still recovering from major surgeries.
Stephen Strasburg, the team’s ace and one of the most heralded young pitchers in the game, is still less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for a year. Though GM Mike Rizzo says Strasburg doesn’t have a set innings limit, it’s safe to assume he’ll be shut down at some point during the regular season. Chien-Ming Wang is years from shoulder surgery in 2009, but the unique nature of the procedure still leaves some doubt in his future durability.
Those two pitchers have known injuries in the past, and you can add Jordan Zimmermann to that list, though by all accounts he is 100% this year. Meanwhile, there’s one inevitability in baseball: pitchers get hurt. It may not be Strasburg or Wang, but at some point during the 162 game grind of the 2012 season, a starter is going to go down. If John Lannan is sent down to Triple-A Syracuse, he will be a wonderful option for the team to call on in case of injury on the MLB roster. At $5 million for next year, it’s not the cheapest insurance policy in the world, but it’s a better option than having no back up plan at all.
After losing Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone to the Oakland A’s in the Gio Gonzalez trade, the Nationals starting pitching depth in the minors isn’t quite what it used to be. Detwiler could end up sliding into the rotation if someone goes down with an injury, but Lannan provides a little extra insurance that the team will need if they plan to push for a playoff spot this season. It’s easy to say “well he won’t have an impact in April, so let’s get something for him,” but that’s a mentality of a team that’s not expecting to win. Winning teams win not only because of top-of-the-line talent, but because of depth at every position. At just $5 million per year, John Lannan could help provide that depth. After all, pitching wins titles.