It's become almost a routine on this blog where readers say they'd like the Nationals to find a more dynamic pitcher than John Lannan. My usual response goes something like this: Take a look at the number of left-handed pitchers who have better stuff or more consistent results than Lannan. It's not as many as you think.
In the last four years, only 67 major league pitchers have thrown at least 600 innings. Among those pitchers, Lannan ranks 39th in the game with a 4.00 ERA. That's just two points behind Josh Beckett - albeit in an easier league - and ahead of pitchers like Joe Saunders, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland, Derek Lowe and Jeremy Guthrie. Only 18 of those pitchers are left-handed, and Lannan has the 13th-best ERA in that group, 12 points behind Mark Buehrle. His numbers aren't spellbinding, but he's been a durable, solid left-hander, which puts him in a select group.
The flip side of that, though, is that Lannan's likely to get paid like he's in a select group this winter, which is why the Nationals could think about trading him after all.
Lannan, who made $2.75 million this season, is entering his second year of arbitration. He'll be hurt a little by his 2010 season, during which he went to the minors, but that year was also in his arbitration calculation last season, and he's coming off what might have been the best year of his career. It's not unreasonable to think Lannan will get between $5 and $6 million this winter; Saunders, the left-hander Lannan barely beat in the ERA rankings, made $5.5 million this year. (There's a little pre-arbitration research for agent Brodie Van Wagenen and his staff at CAA; you can send me a check later.)
Here's why the Nationals could entertain the idea of moving Lannan: At age 27, he is a proven, sturdy left-hander in the prime of his career. As much as statisticians have treated him as an anomaly, he's managed to churn decent results out of underwhelming stuff since 2008. The Nationals, though, have a number of young, controllable lefties behind Lannan (like Ross Detwiler and Tommy Milone), and another sinkerballer in Chien-Ming Wang who might be able to give them a 4.00-ish ERA at a cheaper price.
And if they made a run at the Rangers' C.J. Wilson this winter, they'd get another lefty with more dynamic stuff and the ability to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Wilson would be expensive, but the Nationals have already scouted him, and at age 31, he'd give them a lefty with swing-and-miss stuff to go with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Lannan could be part of that rotation as a solid No. 4, but as a solid trade chip, he could also wind up in a package for a leadoff hitter.
The Nationals wouldn't be moving Lannan because he's not working out; he's put together solid results for four years, and there's no guarantee any of their current prospects would be able to match that, no matter what their upside. But the team's pitching surplus, coupled with Lannan's escalating value, might make the conditions right for a trade. And with the Nationals' other needs this winter, it wouldn't be surprising if they listened to offers for the lefty.