The idea that Washington Nationals left-hander John Lannan could be on the trade block this winter was first presented back in October. MASNsports.com’s Ben Goessling (who’s since moved on to a new outlet, covering teams in his home state of Minnesota) first suggested that the organization could sign one of the premier lefty free agent options (Goessling specifically mentions C.J. Wilson, but Mark Buehrle would have also been in this discussion) and then deal Lannan over the winter to address some other needs.
Once the team defeated Lannan in arbitration at the end of January (setting his 2012 salary at $5 Million) and then unexpectedly signed Edwin Jackson to a one year deal just days later it seemed certain that he’d soon become available. Washington had more starters than available spots in the rotation and Lannan suddenly became the odd man out. The rumors and speculation have been fairly steady for much of the past six weeks.
Lannan won’t turn 28 years old until the final week of the regular season and will be under team control through the 2013 season. The 2005 Draft pick (11th Round) first made his MLB Debut in 2007 and has since made 128 starts for Washington. He’s 38-51 with a 4.00 ERA over that span, pitching 751.0 innings.
He won a career high 10 games in 2011, adding a 3.70 ERA, 5.2 K/9, and 3.7 BB/9 in 184.2 innings. It was the third time in four years he made 30+ starts, pitched 180+ innings, and finished with an ERA below 4.00.
Technically he does have an option remaining, but it’s doubtful that the team would consider using it at this point in Lannan’s career. Such a move would drastically harm the organization’s relationship with the pitcher and force them into a situation where the best move would be to trade him, thus losing all leverage in negotiations with other teams. Lannan is more likely to pitch out of the bullpen or be traded than sent to the minor leagues.
Sunday afternoon, ESPN’s Jim Bowden tweeted further speculation that Lannan was available but Washington wasn’t necessarily desperate to move him. He added that Boston has made an offer, though it wasn’t close to what the team would want in return.
Over at BoSox Injection, our Boston Red Sox partners here at FanSided, Senior Editor Derek Stykalo recently examined the question of whether the Sox should go out and acquire another starting pitcher. His argument mostly centers on the idea of potentially acquiring someone like Gavin Floyd from the Chicago White Sox. Much of his premise, however, is that the best trade bait the organization possesses to make such a deal (i.e. the MLB-ready talent) consists of players with loads of potential, but who simply haven’t put it all together yet at the MLB level. Players like Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller, and Michael Bowden who are all out of options.
Stykalo’s discussion was at least in part, inspired by Alex Speier of WEEI.com. Late last week Speier examined Boston’s current rotation options, concluding that the team appears comfortable with their in-house options and there doesn’t seem to be an immediate need to acquire another starter. However, as Speier admits, there seems to be more options than openings, so some tough decisions will ultimately need to be made before the end of Spring Training.
Jim Bowden reported that Boston had made an offer that Washington turned down but he didn’t provide any details. This discussion got me thinking about what an offer from the Red Sox might have looked like and what players the Nationals could potentially target. Until (and unless) details are made public we likely won’t learn what Boston’s offer consisted of. But we can examine what players in the organization could be appealing to the Nationals.
Washington’s biggest hole that needs to be addressed is the lack of a long term solution in center field. At this point I’ve written ad nauseum about the subject, a habit that will likely continue until a solution is identified. It seems safe to assume that should the organization agree to deal Lannan, one of their top targets would be someone capable of handling the position. However, Washington doesn’t have to focus solely on center field in a potential move, as they could also replenish some of the pitching depth in the upper minor leagues or merely acquire other prospects.
Considering the center field concern, we’ll start there. Boston currently has seven outfielders on their 40-man roster. Right from the start we can eliminate Jacoby Ellsbury as a possibility. We can likely cross Carl Crawford and Cody Ross off the list as well. Darnell McDonald also seems unlikely, as he is also out of options and may not provide much of an upgrade over current in-house options.
One of the remaining options would be Ryan Sweeney, who Boston acquired with Andrew Bailey this past offseason. Sweeney is a former top prospect (appearing three times in Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings) who’s never quite been able to put things together in the Majors. He’s been traded twice in his career (including with Gio Gonzalez in the deal that landed both with Oakland) but is still under team control for two more seasons.
Sweeney is a career .283/.342/.378 hitter with 14 HR and 169 RBI in 1,681 plate appearances over parts of six seasons. Power has never been a big part of his game (he hit only 34 HR in 508 games in the minor leagues) but he’s been a strong on-base option with the versatility to handle all three outfield positions. Many believe that the change of scenery by coming to Boston may do him well and there is certainly some potential value that he’d offer a club like Washington. He’s scheduled to make $1.75 Million this season, a figure that could work into nearly any team’s payroll.
The two remaining outfielders on Boston’s 40-man roster are Ryan Kalish and Che-Hsuan Lin. Neither ranks among the team’s top prospects (though Baseball America had Lin at #25 on the team’s Top 30 list for 2011). Kalish appeared in 53 games for the Red Sox in 2010, batting .252/.305/.405 with 4 HR and 24 RBI in 179 plate appearances. He missed most of the 2011 season after an outfield collision in late April left him with severe shoulder discomfort. He started throwing again for the first time in early February and is expected to miss at least the first few weeks of the 2012 season.
Lin, meanwhile, has yet to reach the Major Leagues. He’s a career .257/.352/.349 hitter in 514 career minor league games over five seasons after being signed as an international free agent out of Taiwan. In 2008 he played in both the All Star Futures Game and the Summer Olympics. This past season he reached Triple-A for the first time but struggled at the plate. In 378 plate appearances he hit only .235/.325/.293 with 2 HR and 25 RBI.
Both Kalish and Lin would be interesting options for Washington. They each have options remaining but could likely use some additional minor league seasoning. They are under team control long term but neither presents a likely long term option for center field and subsequently wouldn’t be enough value alone in exchange for Lannan.
This brings me back to the trio of pitchers that I mentioned above – Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller, and Michael Bowden. Each of them is out of options and would need to be able to fit into Washington’s bullpen plans for inclusion in this deal to make sense.
Miller has spent nearly his entire career in a starting role, having thrown 325.0 innings in the role versus just 34.1 out of the bullpen. His role for the Red Sox in 2012 is yet to be determined, however, and he could find himself in a long reliever role. He’ll only cost Boston $1.04 Million this season and it seems unlikely that they’ll move him.
Doubront, meanwhile, has seen most of his success across his minor league career but has yet to get an extended shot in the Major Leagues. He’s pitched 35.1 innings in Boston, in 23 games (3 starts) across the past two seasons. His peripheral abilities would appear to have more potential than Miller will ever develop but again, Doubront would seem to be a piece the Red Sox would want to hold onto.
I’d gladly take either Miller or Doubront in return as part of a deal for Lannan, regardless of the fact that they are out of options. Either would be a better choice for the Washington bullpen than Tom Gorzelanny may prove to be. Bowden, who once showed enough promise to be thought of as a mid-rotation starter, is now likely destined for a middle relief role. I suspect that won’t happen in Boston but I see no reason to target him in a deal right now.
Washington may decide to pull the trigger on a deal involving Lannan, but it’s unclear what exactly the organization may choose to focus on acquiring in return. Should they limit themselves to a deal which lets them address center field, it would seem unlikely that Boston will prove to be the best fit. The Red Sox have some pieces that would certainly intrigue me – the above outfielders, Doubront, or some of their minor league prospects such as Brandon Workman – but there’s no certainty that they’d be willing to move any of them in a deal for Lannan.
Remember, the Nationals don’t need to move Lannan so they have the fortune of holding out for the return they are seeking in any potential move. The problem is there aren’t many teams that would appear to have the need for him right now (upwards of 10 teams have been linked to him at various times but none seem to have a need pressing enough to warrant giving up something of value for an option that may not be any better than their own internal options), further reducing the chances that a deal is ultimately made. Washington finds themselves with depth in their starting rotation and the unusual problem of trying to fit them all onto the 25-man roster. Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang likely make too much money to send to the minor leagues and Ross Detwiler is out of options. Barring a trade or some other unexpected occurrence, there could be some tough decisions facing the Nationals before the season begins in early April.