John Lannan has arrived at the Washington Nationals’ Spring Training home each of the past four years with reason to believe that a spot in the starting rotation was his to lose. This year, however, the left-hander surprisingly finds himself in the midst of a battle for the final spot in the rotation after the acquisitions the organization has made this winter. After the most recent of those acquisitions, the signing of Edwin Jackson, speculation started to circulate that Lannan could potentially find himself on the trading block. Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo quickly shot down much of that speculation, as expected, but it hasn’t stopped some from speculating on potential destinations for the 27 year old.
This past Sunday, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe shared some thoughts on Lannan towards the end of his weekly Sunday notes column. He doesn’t name any sources, but the paragraph he wrote on the subject (see below) has certainly created quite a stir across the blogosphere.
Lannan, 27, is a terrific option as an end-of-the-rotation starter now that Washington has signed Edwin Jackson. There is a lot of speculation that the Nationals will deal him to the Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjos, with Mike Trout on the way to play that position in Anaheim. But the Nationals could also move Jayson Werth to center and sign a right fielder. It now appears that Yoenes Cespedes is not in their plans and they have cooled on B.J. Upton. Lannan, who went 10-13 last year with a 3.70 ERA and a (high) 1.462 WHIP, would be a good option for a team like Boston, but the Red Sox don’t seem to have the center fielder to give back, especially with Ryan Kalish unable to play until June. “It doesn’t have to be a center fielder,” said one Major League source. “They don’t have to get a center fielder in that deal as long as they get a center fielder some other way. The Red Sox make a lot of sense.”
It remains uncertain where Cafardo is hearing this speculation from, but given his reputation as a reporter there is reason to believe that his source isn’t just an eccentric neighbor or some local fan he met in an elevator one afternoon. So while we can’t question the validity of the speculation, we can examine how feasible an idea it is that he is suggesting.
The easy part of this equation is how Bourjos would fit with the Nationals, which, quite simply, is very well. It’s no secret that the organization has long been searching for a long term solution to their center field needs and one that, in an ideal situation, was capable of handling the leadoff duties as well. Bourjos could potentially fit both needs.
The 2011 season was the first full season at the Major League level of Bourjos’ career. He took full advantage of the opportunity, batting .271/.327/.438 with 12 HR and 43 RBI over 552 plate appearances. He’d add 22 stolen bases and an American League leading 11 triples. Considering the makeup of the Angels’ roster last season, Bourjos often found himself batting near the bottom of the team’s lineup, either 8th (167 plate appearances) or 9th (184 plate appearances). He did leadoff in 17 games, however, batting .256/.275/.474 in 80 plate appearances over that span. This is admittedly too small a sample size to draw any true conclusions, but given Bourjos’ on-base ability and strengths on the base paths there is reason to believe he could handle batting leadoff on a regular basis.
Perhaps most importantly, with just over a year of service time under his belt, Bourjos is under team control for five more seasons. The next two will pay him a little more than the league minimum.
The Angels have given no indication that they are actively looking to move Bourjos, though he is the most likely candidate should they decide to make a trade involving one of their outfielders. As things currently stand, the Angels will head into the 2012 season with Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Bobby Abreu battling for at bats in either right or left field. The loser of that battle will then likely compete with Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo for at bats as the team’s designated hitter. Considering payroll obligations, only Bourjos and Trumbo would likely be dealt to address another need unless the Angels took a bad contract back in return.
In addition to being a likely choice should they make a deal, it also works in the Angels’ favor that they already have an internal replacement who could step right in to replace Bourjos. Mike Trout has been hyped as one of baseball’s top prospects since being taken late in the 1st Round of the 2009 Draft. Trout made his MLB Debut this past season, appearing in 40 games and receiving 135 plate appearances. He batted just .220/.281/.390 with 5 HR and 16 RBI during that span, but showed enough to justify most of that hype that has followed him throughout his career. It’s widely believed he’s ready for an everyday role but it’s uncertain where the Angels are going to find the at bats for all of these players.
On the other side of things, Lannan would likely be an improvement for the Angels over current 5th starter candidate Jerome Williams. Williams did impress in 2011, winning 4 of his 6 late-season starts while pitching to a 2.31 ERA. What made his story so significant, however, was the fact that Williams had last appeared in the Major Leagues back in 2007, when he went 0-5 with a 7.20 ERA for the Nationals. He spent 2008 and 2009 in the minor leagues before ultimately spending some time pitching in the Mexican League and then the Independent Atlantic League before the Angels signed him to a minor league deal last year.
Meanwhile, Lannan went 10-13 with a 3.70 ERA during the 2011 season. He’s made at least 25 starts and pitched at least 143 innings in each of the past four seasons. But, while he’s generally viewed as a “quality starter” by most within the Nationals organization, his future with the organization remains uncertain at this point in time.
The Nationals recently won their arbitration hearing against Lannan for this upcoming season, resulting in a $5 Million salary for the left-hander for 2012. He will still be under team control for 2013, assuming he pitches well enough to earn a contract from whatever team he’s with at the end of the 2012 season. That, of course, is no certainty.
Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron penned a lengthy article on the Lannan-for-Bourjos rumor which largely pokes at the feasibility and validity to such a proposal. In his post, Cameron ends up comparing Lannan to Arizona’s Joe Saunders. Both left-handers are known to be innings-eaters with respectable ERAs. However, Cameron does point out that the low ERA numbers can often be deceiving given the fact that neither pitcher strikes many batters out. He continues:
Lannan is due $5 Million in 2012, and will follow in Saunders’ footsteps next winter – if he has another typical season, he’ll likely be a non-tender candidate, as teams generally prefer not to pay upwards of $10 Million for these kinds of soft-tossing back end starters. If Lannan has any surplus value above and beyond what his salary calls for him to earn, it’s minimal at best.
Adding Lannan to the mix would certainly give the Angels a formidable starting rotation – he’d be 5th behind Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, and Ervin Santana. And while there might be interest in making a move to improve the Angels’ chances of winning this coming season, particularly after a winter in which they handed out massive free agent contracts to land Wilson and first baseman Albert Pujols, a simple Lannan-for-Bourjos swap just simply isn’t realistic. Between his defensive strengths, base running abilities, and five remaining seasons of team control Bourjos is just simply more valuable than Lannan at this point in time. The Nationals would likely have to add another player or two for a deal to even get close between the two teams, which further adds to the unlikelihood of such a deal being completed. Bourjos may have been a nice fit in center field for the Nationals, but for now, he’s likely an unrealistic one.