CHICAGO — The Washington Nationals informed John Lannan that they did not view him as a part of their Opening Day roster in the third inning of Tuesday’s exhibition finale at Nationals Park. As such, Lannan, who was told the team was planning to option him to Triple-A Syracuse after several years in their rotation, was unavailable for comment by the time the game ended.
In an e-mail Wednesday evening, Lannan expressed his disappointment with the Nationals decision and informed media that he has asked Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo for a trade. Lannan said he has met with Rizzo twice to “tell him exactly how I feel,” and his agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, has also spoken with Rizzo about the situation.
“I know what my rights and the team’s rights are,” Lannan said. “And while I’m still a member of the Washington Nationals organization, I let Mike know that I believe a trade would be the best solution for everyone in both the short and long term.”
Lannan, who was 10-13 in 2011 with a 3.70 ERA, has been an Opening Day starter for the Nationals on two previous occasions and, after a hamstring injury sidelined Chien-Ming Wang on March 15, was under the impression this season that he would be the No. 5 starter in the team’s rotation. Nationals manager Davey Johnson announced as much on March 26, saying “John’s my guy,” when asked about the fifth starter competition.
Tuesday, hours before they had to set their roster for Opening Day, the Nationals chose to go with Ross Detwiler, who is out of options, as the No. 5 starter for the time being instead of keeping him in the bullpen. The move allowed them to keep both right-handers Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen in the bullpen and presumably made the moves easier for the team when closer Drew Storen, as well as Wang, return from the disabled list.
But it essentially severed ties, if not literally than theoretically, with one of their longest-tenured players and Lannan clearly disagreed with the decision.
“I believe that I belong in a big-league rotation,” Lannan said in the e-mail. “I am a proven major-league starting pitcher, with a track record of success.”
“I appreciate all the opportunities the Nationals organization has given me throughout the years,” he added. “I’ve done a lot for this organization through some tough times. I anticipated on being part of the team’s next exciting chapter.
“If the Nationals feel they don’t need me or want me with the current make-up of the team, I can respect their decision. However, I’m very confident that I am capable of making a meaningful contribution to a major-league team.”
Lannan lost his arbitration case with the Nationals this offseason but will still earn $5 million this year, even if he’s pitching in the minor leagues. By demoting him to the minor leagues, though, the Nationals stopped his service time clock and could thereby delay his free agency, which was scheduled to hit after the 2013 season.
Trade rumors swirled around Lannan from the moment the Nationals signed right-hander Edwin Jackson in early February, thus overcrowding the team’s starting rotation, but the Nationals received only mild interest in Lannan and their asking price was said to be very high. After the decision was announced on Tuesday, Rizzo said that he felt Lannan would still play a pivotal role for this team this year.
Lannan has just over four years of major league service time so it is not believed that the veterans’ consent allowed to players with five or more years of service time comes into play here. In that instance, a player would be allowed to refuse assignment and become a free agent.
If the Nationals are unable to trade him — which they are under no obligation to do — his future with the organization is certainly murky at best.
“This transaction will not change who I am or how I approach my business,” Lannan said, noting this would be the last time he would publicly address the situation. “I will continue to prepare myself for the season and look forward to the opportunity to pitch for a major-league team in the near future.
“My focus from here on out will be on playing the game that I love and demonstrating the professionalism that I have exhibited throughout my career.”
Lannan is scheduled to start Sunday for the Syracuse Chiefs as things stand now.