Now that the Nationals have had more than two weeks worth of exhibition games to get a feel for their opening day roster, lefthander John Lannan appears expendable. Though general manager Mike Rizzo prefers to maximize the club’s return by waiting until the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline to move Lannan, the pitcher’s $5 million dollar salary and the team’s void in centerfield could compel him to make a deal much sooner.
One of the game’s more reliable and unheralded young southpaws, John Lannan received a hefty pay raise this offseason– from $2.75 million in ’11 to $5 million in 2012. Despite pitching for one of the National League’s losingest teams since his ’07 debut, Lannan has managed a rock-solid career 4.00 ERA and 53% groundball rate. He’s a soft-tossing lefty whose K/9 sits on the wrong side of 5.00, but he’s tossed at least 182 innings of sub-four ERA baseball in three of the last four seasons. Like the Kirk Rueters and Mark Redmans of the recent past, he’s so average he’s valuable and would sit comfortably in the four or five-spot in the majority of big league rotations.
Now that Mike Cameron has announced his retirement, the Nationals need an everyday centerfielder. As of right now, they’re planning on platooning some combination of Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel, Mark DeRosa and Jason Werth. Five-tool phenom Bryce Harper is doing his best to convince the Nationals to give him a spot on the opening day lineup card. While he appears capable of handling centerfield, the Nationals would prefer to pace his timetable a bit more with a minor-league assignment this spring. The return of Adam LaRoche from injury and the presence of Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Morse in the center of the Nats’ lineup reduces the need for any extra offense, but fly-ball pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Tyler Clippard could use a seasoned glove in centerfield.
So far, the Red Sox, Astros and Tigers have shown some minor interest in Lannan. Lannan’s $5 million dollar price tag greatly depresses his trade value, erasing the possibility of a obtaining an first or second-tier centerfielder in return. Of the three interested clubs, only the Red Sox and Astros could legitimately offer centerfield help. The Astros have Jason Bourgeois, a utilityman with enough speed and glove to make up for a punchless right-handed bat. Bourgeois plays an above-average centerfield, and as a righty, he would be a good fit to platoon with Bernadina or Ankiel. This would allow the Nationals to keep Jason Werth in right field full-time and reap the benefits of above-average outfield defense.
While the Red Sox are actively looking for a fifth starter, they won’t have much help to offer the Nationals. They could spare either Ryan Kalish or Darnell McDonald, who are both centerfield-capable, but neither player would provide a noticeable upgrade over the Nats’ current options.
Earlier this winter, we heard that the Nationals were interested in D’Backs outfielder Gerardo Parra. Parra, a 2011 Gold Glove recipient, doesn’t appear to have an everyday job with the Diamondbacks heading in to the 2012 season. Arizona GM Kevin Towers recently told the media that he wasn’t interested in trading Parra, but he could change his mind if Josh Collmenter struggles to replicate his cinderella-story breakout last season.
Stephen Drew’s ugly ankle injury does create an incentive for the D’Backs to add a capable shortstop, and the Nationals could certainly help them fill that need. Prospect Steve Lombardozzi appears ready to play second base, which would allow the slick-fielding Danny Espinosa to move to shortstop if necessary. Washington’s top overall draft pick from last June, Anthony Rendon, isn’t far from the big leagues and he’s shown the Nationals that he can play a good middle infield with a strong performance this spring. Under this scenario, Washington could easily part with current shortstop Ian Desmond. The club loves Desmond’s athleticism and potential, but his unreliable and his game has yet to develop as planned. If the Nationals were willing to package Desmond and Lannan together, they could probably land Parra.
Recent rumors of the Angels placing Alberto Callaspo on the trade block opens up the possibility of a three-team trade. The Angels have the game’s best rotation, but still lack a reliable fifth starter. To help quiet any worries about their fifth starter, the Angels could turn Alberto Callaspo’s $3.2 million contract into something more useful by swapping him for Lannan. The Nationals could either unload Callaspo to the D’Backs directly, or plug him in at second base, move Espinosa to short and send Desmond packing instead.
Though they haven’t contacted the Nationals about Lannan just yet, the Blue Jays are reportedly seeking some pitching help. Shoulder-surgery survivor Dustin McGowan is preparing to take the club’s fifth starter spot, but his history of serious arm injuries is cause for concern. The Blue Jays won’t be thrilled by Lannan’s salary, but they would probably be willing to stomach most of it if they only had to trade sixth outfielder Rajai Davis to get him. Like Bourgeois, Davis is a light-hitting righty bat with plus speed and a reliable outfield glove.
The fairly weak demand for Lannan encourages the Nationals to hold on to him for at least the first-half of the upcoming season. GM Mike Rizzo has indicated his willingness to send the lefty to AAA to begin the season, but Chien-Ming Wang’s recent injury could make room for him on the big league roster after all. Lannan’s other competition for the fifth spot, lefty Ross Detwiler, is out of options but his effectiveness in middle relief could keep him in the bullpen.