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HARRIS: Rental shouldn’t replace Strasburg; try Lannan

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On a recent trip to Florida, the cost of a taxi to cover the 25 miles between the airport and the hotel was $65. Each way. So round trip with some tip thrown in would have been about $150.

The cost of a rental car? A whole 22 bucks. With taxes and gas thrown in, it came to $35.

Renting is good. And reasonable. Most often it is the way to go when you don't need something long-term.

Baseball is very much the exception. Baseball rentals are break-your-back expensive. They take all your money. Then they hold you upside down and shake to see if anything else falls out. They turn over your furniture for the loose change. You get what you want at a very hefty price.

As the Washington Nationals head into the All-Star break with the National League's best record, the thought of doing a rental probably has entered their minds. There's that whole shut-down-Stephen Strasburg thing hanging over their heads. And a playoff spot that won't be clinched when Strasburg hits his limit, probably with 30 or so games to play.

Some enticing names may be available. Depending upon which way the wind is blowing, the Phillies may be looking to move Cole Hamels. Milwaukee may want to move Zack Greinke (wonder if the Nats meet his standards now?). Other names will pop up.

The answer, we trust, will be a resounding "no" from the Nats' braintrust.

If you're going to give up a significant chunk of your "for real" prospect base, someone like Gio Gonzalez better be on the other side. The Nats gave up four good ones to get him from Oakland and who can complain? Still only 26, Gonzalez is locked up long-term. He's a marvelous player and he's performed like one.

An All-Star with a 12-3 record, Gonzalez didn't find some magic juice to drink once he got here. He won seven of his last eight decisions last season, which means he's 19-4 in his past 23 decisions. That's strong. Real strong.

He's definitely worth the price Washington paid.

Would he be worth it for only two or so months? Nope.

Nationals fans dreaming of the postseason need to get their arms around the Strasburg thing right now. Like it or not, he will be shut down. The Nats made that clear last year when he came back from Tommy John surgery. They did it with Jordan Zimmermann. They'll do it with Strasburg. You can't claim to be looking out for the long-term interest of the player and then change your mind because hey, wow, we're better than we thought!

Figure on early September or so for Strasburg to transition to spectator.

So what then? The Nats don't need five starters for the playoffs. They will for the rest of the season because, as noted, nothing is going to be clinched in early September.

Chien-Mien Wang looked to be the answer, but he went on the Jerome Williams Disabled List last week. Williams, long-term Nats fans will recall with a cringe, made six unmemorable starts in 2007.

He walked off the mound one night with an 0-5 record, went on the DL and was never seen 'round these parts again (yet he did manage to surface with the Angels last year and is somehow a combined 10-5 with them). If we see Wang in a Nats uniform again, it will be a surprise.

The answer is not located elsewhere in the bullpen. Craig Stammen and Tom Gorzelanny are starters relegated to relief work, where they've been rather effective - moreso than they were as starters. Don't mess with that.

The answer is in Syracuse, where John Lannan sits as a $5 million a year insurance policy. Lannan has become the face of the old Nats, a guy who was twice an Opening Day starter without really having Opening Day ability. Yet, he did manage to win 38 games in the majors and post an ERA under four in three of his four full seasons. On mostly bad teams.

He's not a long-term answer, but the Nats aren't looking for one of those. They're looking for someone who can make five or six starts and not embarrass himself in a pennant race. For what an arbitrator decided he was worth, Lannan ought to be able to handle that.

He's not Hamels, he's not Greinke, he's not many of the dozen or so other pitchers who may be moved in the coming weeks. He's also not expensive in terms of damage to the farm system.

A half-dozen starts from Lannan won't cost the Nats a playoff spot. If they don't get there, it won't be for that reason. Call him an "in-house rental." He's a perfectly acceptable answer to an unusual situation.

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