The Washington Nationals cut ties with one of its longest-tenured members Friday night when they planned not to tender a contract for the 2013 season to left-handed pitcher John Lannan. Catcher Jesus Flores and left-handed reliever Tom Gorzelanny were also expected to be non-tendered, barring an unexpected reversal, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, effectively making all three players free agents.
The Nationals 40-man roster would then be at 35 as they head into next week’s winter meetings in Nashville.
Lannan, a one-time Opening Day starter, had his career in a Nationals uniform come to an unceremonious end. After weathering what was one of the most difficult seasons of his professional career — a season in which the Nationals paid him $5 million to spend the majority of the season at Triple-A — the team decided to move on from the left-hander rather than spend at least $4 million more on him in 2013.
The 28-year-old lefty, an 11th-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2005, established himself as a reliable major league starter over parts of six seasons with the team. But as the Nationals ascension to one of the game’s elite teams fully took shape last offseason, they were built on a starting rotation filled with power arms.
Lannan, a sinkerballer who has a career ERA of 4.01 and had his best season in 2011 when he won 10 games with a 3.70 ERA, found himself as the odd man out on the eve of the 2012 season.
Ultimately he did pitch in several meaningful games for the Nationals during their march to the National League East title, including a must-win performance in July against the Atlanta Braves. And he assumed Stephen Strasburg’s spot in the rotation admirably well in September.
The Nationals could have tendered Lannan a contract and gone through the arbitration process again but he was guaranteed to make at least $4 million and, despite the fact that the team is in search of a No. 5 starter, his place in the organization had become unclear.
As for Flores, the 28-year-old catcher’s fate was all but sealed the day the Nationals acquired catcher Kurt Suzuki this past August. Flores was a valuable back up to Wilson Ramos and appeared to excel in the role early in the season. But when the everyday job was thrust upon him after Ramos’ season-ending knee injury, Flores’ offense suffered and there were some in the organization who felt his gamecalling and defense was sub-par as well.
In 83 games in 2012, Flores hit just .213 with a .248 on-base percentage and the Nationals, while not the fault of their catchers alone, allowed 111 stolen bases and caught just 22. Their 17 percent caught-stealing rate was the second-worst mark in the National League, kept out of last place only by the Pittsburgh Pirates and their woeful 11 percent mark.
Flores, a third-year arbitration eligible player, made $850,000 in 2012 and would likely make over $1 million next season through the arbitration process.
Gorzelanny, a valuable left-handed long-reliever and spot starter who was acquired before the 2011 season, may have simply priced himself out of returning to the Nationals after making $3 million last season and pitching primarily in the sixth and seventh innings.
He would presumably have earned at least a modest raise in arbitration, which was perhaps too high a price for the Nationals to pay for a middle reliever.
With the moves Friday night, the Nationals now are without any left-handed relievers in their bullpen. Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez elected free agency at the end of the 2012 season.