Still digesting the Lannan move

So much for there not being any surprise roster decisions at the end of Nationals spring training.

So much for the Nats setting their rotation over a week ago, leaving only a couple bench spots and the final bullpen job up for grabs.

So much for that whole “John’s my guy” thing.

Given the way the Nationals had acted ever since Chien-Ming Wang went down with a hamstring strain in mid-March, an injury which officially opened up a spot in their rotation, the decision to option John Lannan and his $5 million salary to Triple-A Syracuse yesterday came as a surprise to everyone on the outside looking in.

Heck, considering that Lannan started four Grapefruit League games this spring while Ross Detwiler (who now will hold the Nats’ No. 5 rotation spot) got just one major league spring start and even worked some innings down on the minor league side, Lannan himself couldn’t have seen this coming, either.

Often times in situations like this, teams make moves at least partly based on monetary or business reasons. They give the benefit of the doubt to players with large contracts or wait to call up prospects so their arbitration clock doesn’t begin ticking too soon.

The Nationals surely did not do that yesterday. They made a decision that they felt was in the best baseball interests of their team.

The Nats would have needed to answer very few questions if they’d stayed with the plan to use Lannan as their fifth starter to open the season. Detwiler could have slid over to the bullpen, a place he got semi-familiar with last season, and waited for the time when the Nats needed a spot start or someone to replace an injured starter. Lannan could have held down the fort in the rotation, and given his experience, likely would have done just fine.

But that’s not what happened here.

By sending Lannan down to Syracuse, the Nats delay his service time clock, slowing the lefty’s track toward free agency. They not only frustrate a player who has been with the organization since 2005, has twice has been the team’s opening day starter and led the team in wins last season, but they probably cause his already minimal trade value to take a hit, as well.

Money clearly didn’t factor in here either; the Nats will now pay their opening day starter at Triple-A more this season than they will four of the five guys who will be in their major league starting rotation to begin the year.

The decision to keep Detwiler shows that the Nats were truly dedicated to assembling the best opening day roster they possibly could. They felt Detwiler (who lacks the experience of Lannan but whose pure stuff is superior to his 27-year-old teammate) gives them a better shot to win games right now. Bottom line.

No one can accuse the Nationals of taking the easy way out here. General manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson made a difficult decision, one that put baseball interests over business interests.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see whether that decision was the right one.

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