A CBSSports Baseball Insider report by Danny Knobler suggests that the Red Sox are one of the teams still considering the acquisition of Washington Nationals starter John Lannan.
Even though Alex Speier of WEEI.com says that no offer has been made, there seems to be little question that the Red Sox are kicking the tires.
As Opening Day approaches, Boston seems no closer to answering the fifth starter question than they were in December. Carlos Silva is out of the mix due to injury, and Andrew Miller has also been held back due to a stiff elbow.
Aaron Cook is being brought along very slowly—so slowly that it is unlikely he will be ready. Same goes for Ross Ohlendorf.
Yes, Alfredo Aceves is a possibility, but do the Red Sox want to take the two best relievers they have out of the bullpen? (Daniel Bard has looked promising as the fourth starter.)
I have argued more than once this offseason—and even before the Nationals signed Edwin Jackson—that Washington was a good potential place to find another proven arm.
Washington, believe it or not, has too many major league-ready starters.
Back on December 27, well before the Jackson deal, Pete Kerzel of MASN wrote, "There's no way around it: The Nationals have at least one more starting pitcher than spots in the vastly improved five-man rotation that will break camp from spring training in Viera, Fla., in early April."
Add Jackson to the mix, and Washington now has at least two starters too many.
Jackson, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler, John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny and Craig Stammen have all been in the mix.
Even if you pencil Gorzelanny in for the bullpen and eliminate Stammen from rotation consideration, Washington still has Wang, Detwiler and Lannan competing for one spot.
The Nationals also have needs that the Red Sox might be able to fill, either directly or indirectly.
Their biggest question mark is center field. Rookie phenom Bryce Harper will eventually solve their outfield problem, but apparently the 19-year-old is not ready. Losing a week to a calf injury this spring has probably wiped out whatever small chance he had to make the team, as he acknowledged to Jon Heyman of Baseball Insider this week.
Washington signed former Red Sox and Marlins bust Mike Cameron as a non-roster invitee and re-signed former pitcher Rick Ankiel to compete with the immortal Roger Bernadina for the open outfield spot. Cameron has since retired, and the Nationals are now supposedly shopping Lannan aggressively.
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com writes, "When we asked an exec of one team that had spoken with the Nationals if they appeared committed to dealing Lannan this spring, his answer was: '100 percent.' "
In recent weeks they have supposedly spoken with the Angels about Peter Bourjos and the Orioles about Adam Jones.
As I wrote on February 10, "Orioles reporter Amber Theoharis suggested John Lannan and Ross Detwiler for Adam Jones, while her colleague Roch Kubatko suggested second base prospect Steven Lombardozzi along with Lannan and a pitching prospect for Jones."
Washington finds itself in a bit of a dilemma, because the talented but oft-injured Detwiler is out of options. That means he can't be sent to Triple-A without clearing waivers. He's a former first-round draft pick, and some other team would claim him for sure.
Phil Wood of MASN Sports wrote, "I wouldn't be surprised if veteran lefty John Lannan ends up in some other team's uniform by opening day. The ballclub likes Lannan, but I suspect they like Ross Detwiler's stuff a little more."
Washington's other problem lies with the axiom that says "you can never have too many starting pitchers." Isn't that what folks said about the Red Sox last year? Look what happened.
Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Chien-Ming Wang are all coming off recent surgeries, so Washington will want to wait until the last possible minute to decide on whether or not to part with any of their backup starters.
The Nats are on record saying they will shut Strasburg down after he reaches 160 innings. It's been four years since Wang has pitched 100 innings, and who knows how many innings Jordan Zimmermann will be able to throw in 2012? (He was limited to 160 in 2011.)
The other stumbling block for a Red Sox/Nationals trade is the fact that the Boston outfielder who might appeal to Washington—Ryan Kalish—won't be ready for the start of the season.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe believes, however, that a trade could still happen. "It doesn’t have to be a center fielder,’’ one major league source told Cafardo. “They don’t have to get a center fielder in that deal as long as they get a center fielder some other way. The Red Sox make a lot of sense.’’
Lannan is 27 and will be a free agent after the 2013 season.
Even though he lost his arbitration case in February, his $5 million salary still makes him the team’s highest-paid pitcher for 2012. (He had asked for $5.7 million after earning $2.75 million last season.)
Also, Lannan was an 11th-round draft pick, while Detwiler was a first-rounder.
That distinction will also play a role in the front-office decision.
On February 8, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post wrote that the Jackson deal "seemed to blanket John Lannan’s future here in uncertainty."
He reinforced the argument that the Nationals have seven or eight viable starters competing for five spots.
"Based on contract and service time considerations," Kilgore concluded, "Lannan became widely regarded as the Nationals’ most expendable (read: tradeable) starter."
In the AL East, having another southpaw in your rotation is never a bad thing.
And, despite his relative youth (27), Lannan is by Washington standards a grizzled veteran.
He was their Opening Day starter in 2009 and 2010.
According to Marty Noble of MLB.com, Lannan is one of those pitchers with a sense of how to win on days when they've been abandoned by the best stuff.
Nats general manager Mike Rizzo told Noble, "John Lannan knows how to give himself a chance to win. He can make a pitch when he has to."
He has made 30 starts in three of the past four seasons, and his 162-game average for innings pitched is 199.
Lannan led the Nationals staff in wins, starts and innings pitched in 2011,
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post did some research on Lannan, who for a relatively unknown pitcher is in pretty good company when it comes to some of his career "grinder" numbers.
He ranks in the top eight in his age group in career games started, innings pitched and quality starts.
The seven pitchers ahead of him are Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Chad Billingsley, John Danks, Clayton Kershaw and Yovani Gallardo—pretty good company.
Virtually every description of Lannan's career includes the words "reliable," "steady" and "back-of-the-rotation starter."
Kilgore also reports there are only 26 pitchers in baseball who have thrown at least 710 innings with a 4.00 ERA or better over the past four seasons.
That means he takes the ball every fifth day and gives his team a chance to win.
Given the MASH unit known as the Red Sox pitching staff, Lannan would be a welcome addition.
On the surface, his numbers are not impressive.
He has never had a winning season, having gone 38-51 in his career to date.
His WHIP is a relatively ugly 1.423.
A soft thrower, he has managed just 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings, and an uninspiring K/BB ratio of 1.39.
With those stats, one would think his ERA would be stratospheric—but it's not. He's been under 4.00 for three of his four major league seasons, and in 2011 he posted a career-best 3.70 ERA, along with 10 wins in 33 starts.
He also raised his K/9 rate to 5.2 in 2011.
Think about it—had Lannan been pitching for a better team, he would have earned more wins.
"We were in the bottom of the league in runs," Washington skipper Davey Johnson told Marty Noble of MLB.com. "And our bullpen wasn't very good until we improved last year. He could have won a lot more games if we were just average in those areas."
Lannan's career ground-ball rate is 54.1 percent, which is right up there in Aaron Cook range. (The MLB average normally hovers around 44 percent, according to FanGraphs.)
According to Patrick Reddington of FederalBaseball.com, that ground-ball rate was the sixth highest among NL pitchers.
His career ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio is a sparkling 1.9.
Lannan is also terrific when it comes to getting double-play balls.
Baseball Prospectus has figured out the expected number of double plays an average pitcher will induce each year.
Marc Normandin of OvertheMonster.com reports that since 2008, Lannan's first full season in the majors, he has induced 29 more double-plays than expected, which ranks him sixth-best in MLB in that category as well. (Normandin credits R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus with providing the expected-double-play data.)
Last year, Lannan ranked second in double-play balls induced.
In 2011, he allowed only 15 home runs in 184 innings, resulting in a very good rate of 0.73HR/9.
That puts him among the top 25 pitchers in MLB—ahead of Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Dan Haren, Jared Weaver and Cole Hamels, among others.