The duo has inquired about Washington Nationals starter John Lannan, who didn’t make the Nats’ Opening Day rotation. Nationals manager Davey Johnson recently said Lannan would not be traded, but GM Mike Rizzo was a bit more gray: “The last thing I told [Lannan] was, ‘You’re going to help us in the big leagues this year or someone else in the big leagues this year.’”
Lannan, 27, is in his second year of arbitration-eligibility, and was recently demoted to AAA. His demotion was something of a surprise, given his past success and big-league contract. The Nationals decided instead to go with Ross Detwiler in the rotation to start the year, seeing the possible upside in Detwiler as higher than Lannan (if this sounds like a parallel to Randy Wells and Jeff Samardzija, it should). Lannan subsequently requested a trade (something you almost never hear about in baseball), and I imagine that the Cubs – like many teams – inquired, sensing an opportunity to buy low.
For that reason, I’m not sure how much this rumor has in terms of a deal getting done, even if it’s almost certainly an accurate rumor.
And then you’ve got to consider whether trading for Lannan makes any sense for the Cubs.
Unless the Cubs are interested in adding Lannan – a career starter who makes $5 million this year – to be a reliever, I can state unequivocally that adding Lannan would be the precursor to another trade, or would, itself, be a part of a larger trade. How can I be so sure? Well, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Paul Maholm are not going anywhere, with respect to the rotation. The Cubs are thrilled with Chris Volstad’s upside as a starter, so it’s hard to see him being bounced from the rotation. And then there’s Jeff Samardzija, the guy who worked all offseason to become a starter, and in whom the Cubs had enough faith as a starter to justify sending Randy Wells to AAA. Where would Lannan go?
The answer is nowhere. Not unless another starter or two (considering Randy Wells is just sitting there at AAA) is going to be traded. Perhaps the Cubs would try to spin Lannan off for a prospect or two (ones in whom the Nats don’t have interest for whatever reason).
That is all to say that there are ways that trading for John Lannan could make some sense for the Cubs (and, I’ve said for a long time that I think we’re going to see this front office try to make the rotation more left-handed as time goes on, because of the way Wrigley Field plays for left-handed hitters (it’s like Coors Field for lefties)), but only if it is paired with another move or two.
As for whom the Cubs would give up, the obvious name is Marlon Byrd. The Nats have been looking for a center fielder for some time, and Byrd is a good one, in the final year of his deal (in which he’ll make $6.5 million). Straight up, Lannan has quite a bit more value than Byrd, but if the Cubs ate some of Byrd’s salary, it could make some sense. I have a hard time seeing the Cubs giving up valuable prospects to acquire Lannan given their already-existing glut of back-end starter types.