MIAMI GARDENS, FL - John Lannan #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The Nationals have too many starting pitchers. Who will have to make room?
Last year, Livan Hernandez was the Opening Day starter for the Washington Nationals. Just sit back and think on that for a bit. Some pitchers are considered innings-eaters. Livan Hernandez, 76 years young, was more apt to binge and purge his innings. That's who was on the mound for the Nationals in Game 1 of 162.
In retrospect, Jordan Zimmermann certainly should have had the honor, but it's worth pointing out that the Nationals have a much different problem than they had a year ago. They have too many starting pitchers now with Stephen Strasburg back from injury, Gio Gonzalez arriving via trade, and now Edwin Jackson signing as a free agent. Who will make room in the rotation?
The rumor mill suggests that John Lannan is on the trading block. Considering his relatively modest $5 million salary, he shouldn't be hard to move. And it's worth pointing out that he's still pretty good -- his career ERA+ is 103, not far off from the 106 mark that Jackson has posted over the past four seasons. If the Nationals are really serious about contending for this year -- and the one-year deal to Jackson obviously suggests that they are -- Lannan is probably the best pitcher for the fifth spot.
But the Nationals also have Chien-Ming Wang in the fold, as they re-signed him for a not-insignificant $4 million. Wang used to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher once -- it seems like a million years ago, but 2007 was the last time that description fit. He returned last year after two years of not pitching for the Nationals, and the team would probably like to get some return on the $7.2 million they've committed to Wang.
Lannan is tradeable; Wang is probably not. That will be what makes the decision easy. And if it's a matter of upside, you can argue that Wang has more. Lannan is good for some league-average innings. Wang once finished second in the Cy Young voting. That pesky health issue comes into play, but even if/when that's an issue, the Nationals will have Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler as rotation depth.
So the Nationals probably aren't going to mess around with Wang as a $4 million spot starter, nor are they going to turn Lannan into a LOOGY (a role that wouldn't even suit him well). They have a glut of pitchers. Considering that their Opening Day starter from last year just signed a minor-league deal with a bad team, it's a problem that they're ecstatic to have.