The Nationals' decision on John Lannan is more complex than people think. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

The John Lannan Decision: What's $5-Million Worth?

John Lannan likely won’t be on the roster to see his $5-million payday in arbitration after today’s non-tender deadline. However, Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider raised the point yesterday that Lannan does indeed still have one more minor-league option if that Nationals wish to use it which, in theory, means Lannan could stay as depth if the Nationals are willing to pay the price.

So to answer the question of whether or not it’d be smart to keep Lannan as a rotation candidate or even as a depth player, let’s take a look at what $5-million can fetch you out on the free agent market.

Starting Pitching

Yes, we know the Nationals already have outstanding starting pitching. However, pitching is perhaps the one commodity in baseball that you can truly never have enough of. This holds true especially if the pitcher you’re adding is a mid-to-top of the rotation pitcher like Zack Greinke or Anibal Sanchez to step in and pitch in the middle or back of your rotation. Though $5-million is not even enough to fund two months of their services, it’d certainly be worth leaving in the budget if the Nationals decide that they want to form an Adonis-like starting rotation.

The Nationals currently have four men listed on their rotation depth chart: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. In the event that Davey Johnson wants to go with a five-man rotation, the Nationals will either need to retain John Lannan, or put that $5-million towards another arm because the Nationals literally don’t have a fifth starting pitcher otherwise. Even if it’s not a Greinke or a Sanchez, there are other options out there at more affordable prices. Perhaps the Nationals decide to go after Brandon McCarthy or, to a lesser extent, call the Royals and make a deal for Bruce Chen.

Bullpen Help

Unfortunately, $5-mil doesn’t buy you what it used to in the relief market. With players like Brandon League and Jonathan Broxton getting 3-year, $21-million pacts with the Dodgers and Reds respectively, the Nationals would not be guaranteed a dominant presence without paying out of pocket. However, someone coming off of injury such as Brian Wilson could potentially see a pay cut coming off injury, and if the rumors around a potential Michael Morse trade are true, the Nats would have a new fan-favorite to fill his place (though let’s be honest, you can never replace the beast – here’s my sappy fan moment). To a lesser extent, relievers such as Francisco Cordero, Kyle Farnsworth and Brandon Lyon could be value pickups that fit that budget.

Adam LaRoche

Again touching on the possibility of a Michael Morse trade, yesterday’s acquisition of Denard Span essentially decided that if Michael Morse is wearing a Nationals uniform in 2013, he’ll do so while playing first base. However, if the Nationals decide they want to pay a little more to upgrade on the defensive side of the ball while maintaining that offensive presence in the lineup, Adam LaRoche is really the only free-agent option available. Players like Mike Napoli and Kevin Youkilis are downgrades on defense, and neither was as much of a presence as LaRoche in the lineup last season. Once again, $5-million dollars won’t bring LaRoche to DC, but when you have multiple players (Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond to name a couple) that you may want to extend on top of adding free agents, every penny counts.

Bench Help

So, John Lannan is probably more valuable than a mediocre pine-rider. However, if you’re a fan of the Washington Nationals, you know the value of a quality bench player (Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina to name a few). Mike Rizzo and company could look to add to the “Goon Squad” by signing the likes of a Ryan Raburn, Chone Figgins or Rick Ankiel. Someone of Chad Tracy-quality earns about a million per season, so non-tendering John Lannan would essentially give the Nationals some budget space to patch all the minor holes.

What have we learned?

We learned that $5-million probably won’t add a starting player that is of Washington Nationals quality. So, let’s go over the scenarios in which it would be smart and not smart to tender Lannan a contract.

Smart

If Davey Johnson wants his 5-man rotation and Mike Rizzo doesn’t want to spend upwards of $8-million on that arm. Lannan can hold his own in a big league rotation (4-1, 4.16 ERA in 2012), and you won’t notice a substantial upgrade unless that player’s salary is also substantially greater.

Unsmart

If Lannan is going to be stuck down in Syracuse. I know that I previously said that pitching is the one commodity you can truly never have enough of, but every saying has a rebuttal. In this case, the rebuttal is, “Yeah, unless you’re paying $5-million.” If depth is what the Nats want, they’d be better off making signings like the Zach Duke signing they made last year. In the case of depth, you look for “AAAA” players that will hold their own in the bigs, but aren’t really of much value; minor-league signings.

So to summarize, Lannan probably provides as much individual value as any free agent would at $5-million. On top of that, he provides potential trade value. However, in terms of the bigger picture, the Nationals would probably be better off taking that money and putting it towards a larger investment like another quality starting pitcher or Adam LaRoche.

In all likelihood, Lannan is a free agent by this time tomorrow. It really is a shame to see him go considering the history he’s had with this team. He has the most wins in franchise history, and has also made the second-most Opening Day starts (2) in franchise history trailing only Livan Herandez (3). Lannan will almost-surely find a place in another team’s rotation (some have speculated the Mets as a potential fit, I say the Twins), but regardless, it will at least a little bit sad to say good bye to #31.

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