CHICAGO — John Lannan reported to Triple-A Syracuse Thursday morning, the first step for him as he adjusts to being a minor leaguer again after spending the majority of the past four seasons as a part of the Washington Nationals major league rotation. Lannan wants to be traded. He made that clear to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo in two separate conversations and said as much in an e-mail to beat writers on Wednesday night.
But in truth Lannan doesn’t have much control over the situation. The Nationals held a minor league option on his contract and they’re within their rights to use it. He doesn’t have enough service time to refuse assignment and cannot demand a trade.
For the Nationals, his request doesn’t change anything.
“We’re not trading him,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “We’re keeping him.”
“He’s frustrated and upset and mad,” Rizzo said. “If he was any other way, I would wonder about him. The guy has been a solid contributor to this franchise for a long time. He’s a good, solid, starting pitcher int he big leagues.
“We felt we had five guys better than him.”
As the Nationals conveyed on Tuesday shortly after the decision had been made, the move was also about not wanting to hide Ross Detwiler in the bullpen, and the uncomfortability Lannan expressed to pitching coach Steve McCatty about pitching in relief.
A former first-round pick, Detwiler proved to the Nationals late in 2011 that he was finally beginning to mature into the pitcher they’d hoped, using the plus stuff he’d always had to the best of his ability. His spring did nothing to dissuade him of that idea and while Johnson said that Lannan would be the team’s fifth starter less than two weeks ago, Detwiler, who Rizzo called “a young stud,” persuaded them otherwise.
“All the discussion with Rizzo and the coaches, it became clear that the few starts he was going to get before Chien-Ming Wang comes back, we’d be better off as an organization giving them to Det. I know Lannan is a good pitcher, but we’re still developing Det. It was an organizational decision which I totally went along with.”
“It’s no secret he’s a stuff guy with swing-and-miss ability,” Rizzo said of Detwiler. “He’s got the capability to be a very good middle- to upper-rotation starter in the major leagues. I felt I was doing him and the other 24 men on the team a disservice by hiding him in the bullpen and pitching him in mop-up roles.
Ultimately, the Nationals view Wang as their No. 5 starter above Lannan and Detwiler and they’re assuming that he will be returning to the rotation to be that pitcher in relatively short order. Wang, who suffered a left hamstring strain on March 15, is scheduled to begin throwing off a mound in three or four days for the first time since the injury.
What Johnson and Rizzo intimated on Thursday was that this was a move that was going to have to happen at some point. Either now, or when Wang is ready to return.
The decision was finalized on Tuesday, but Rizzo had been ruminating over it all spring, while he fielded what he termed was “mild” interest in Lannan from other teams as a trade possibility. That has not changed, even with Lannan’s latest request.
The Nationals view him as a pricey insurance policy that is just a stone’s throw away if something happens to one of their starting five and until they get an offer they feel is adequate — which sources have said is a mid-level prospect or a comparable major leaguer — they’re satisfied with keeping things that way.
“John is great security,” Johnson said. “I’d rather have him starting down there than pitching out of my pen. But I can understand where he’s coming from. It’s a natural reaction.”
Even after Lannan voiced his unhappiness with the move in both discussions, Rizzo said he has no doubts about how the left-hander will perform at the Triple-A level. The last thing he told him was “You’re going to help us in the big leagues this year, or you’re going to help somebody in the big leagues this year.”
“I trust John Lannan is going to be an ultra-professional, like he’s been throughout his career in Washington,” Rizzo said.