On Monday, Davey Johnson announced that John Lannan would be the Nationals’ 5th starter for the beginning of the season. This announcement is unsurprising in light of the injury to the formerly presumptive #5 starter, Chien-Ming Wang. However, Wang will only be on the DL for four to six weeks, meaning he will be slated to return early in the season. When Wang returns, the Nationals will be faced with the same issue that they faced recently. How will the team’s course of action change when their dilemma returns during the year?
Lannan has pitched unspectacularly during spring training, with a 4.50 ERA in 18.0 IP, with a 1.33 WHIP. This has neither helped nor hurt his trade value, but regardless, most teams are reportedly not offering much of substance for him. As such, the Nationals have not been inspired by an offer to deal Lannan. Now that Lannan has been penciled in as the temporary 5th starter, he is unlikely to be dealt for now. However, his situation with the team when Wang returns will likely depend on his performance in Wang’s absence.
With a strong enough performance, it’s not inconceivable that Lannan could force his way into the rotation, leaving Wang as the odd man out in the rotation. Any sort of performance from slightly better than usual to slightly poorer than usual would probably not change anything, with the exception of Lannan’s trade value. However, an incredibly poor performance could present another opportunity to delay a decision. Lannan has one remaining minor league option, which the team could use to send Lannan to the minors without exposing him to waivers. The Nats would then likely keep Lannan in the minors until Wang is injured again or Lannan plays well enough in the minors to force a trade, albeit for likely inconsequential pieces.
The situation with Lannan is complicated and tenuous, and the team must be careful in their treatment of a player who has twice started on Opening Day for the franchise. However, his future is likely with another club. His departure will be the bittersweet end of an era for the Nationals; he was a symbol of a forgettable time, but a fan favorite nonetheless. He will be appreciated for his contributions, but the mediocrity he was reminiscent of will not be missed.