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Why Washington Nationals should keep John Lannan

After the Washington Nationals signed free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson, the common thought around baseball was that John Lannan, who has been with the organization since 2005, was expendable. The lefty would have been potentially one of seven pitchers competing for five starting spots in the rotation and one long-relief role, leaving one hurler in the dust. But what if I told you that trading Lannan would be a horrible idea?

The 27-year old southpaw recently lost his arbitration case with the team, meaning he’ll make $5 million in 2012 instead of the $5.7 million he wanted. Considering he’s not far off from Jackson, who was signed for nearly double, he’s a bargain and fans like him. The saying goes that “You can’t have enough starting pitching” and with guys like Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang, and Gio Gonzalez, the Nats have plenty of arms that give the team a chance to improve on their 80-81 mark from a season ago. Ross Detwiler is almost certain to be the team’s long reliever.

The reason why pitching depth is so important is because injuries happen all the time, especially to pitchers since pitching isn’t a natural body motion. Strasburg is expected to be the club’s opening day starter, but he’s on an innings limit (approximately 160) and has never pitched a full season in professional baseball. Zimmermann had the same limit last season coming back from Tommy John surgery and it’s unknown whether he’ll be able to go 200 innings this year (probably around 185). Gonzalez has been durable his entire career, but control issues have forced him out of several games because his pitch count was too high. Wang had major shoulder surgery and is also on the way back. Well, you get the point.

The Nats have three of their expected five starters coming off of major surgeries over the past two years and as fragile as the human body is, they are all one twitch away from getting hurt again. Lannan could start the season in Triple-A, but I think it’s unlikely considering his owed salary for this year. Instead, have both Lannan and Detwiler in the bullpen as long relievers that will ease pressure off the rotation. This would also make life easier for Tyler Clippard, who has pitched nearly 90 innings in each of the past two seasons. Also affected are guys like Brad Lidge, who wouldn’t have to pitch on consecutive days as often, and Sean Burnett, who will make at least 80 appearances.

Since he was recalled from Double-A in 2010 after a brief demotion, Lannan has been more than a serviceable starter for Washington. In that stretch, he sports a 16-16 record and a respectable 3.62 ERA. He’ll have his bad outings every now and then, but who doesn’t? This guy gives the Nats a chance to win more often than not when he steps on the mound. It’s not the most attractive thing to throw 89 MPH and be a ground ball pitcher, but he gets results and that’s all manager Davey Johnson should be looking for. Don’t trade John Lannan.