With baseball’s Winter Meetings slated to get going next week and the deadline for teams to tender contracts to their own players now come and gone, the Minnesota Twins should be fairly active in free agency over the next few weeks. With as many as four spots to fill in the starting rotation, general manager Terry Ryan is certain to be busy in Nashville this coming week.
Left-hander John Lannan was non-tendered by the Washington Nationals on Friday after spending most of 2012 in Triple-A due to the depth Washington has in their starting rotation. He went 9-11 with a 4.30 ERA in 24 starts (148.2 innings) for Triple-A Syracuse last season, including three complete games, before going 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA over six starts (32.2 innings) for the Nationals. Not surprisingly, four of those starts came in September and October after Stephen Strasburg was shut down for the season.
Lannan has a 42-52 record and a 4.01 ERA over 134 major league starts over six seasons, including three seasons with at least 31 starts made and a sub-4.00 ERA (2008, 2009, 2011). He set a career-high in wins (10) in 2011, and his career high in innings (206.1) came in 2009 when he went 9-13 with a 3.88 ERA over 33 starts, including two complete games.
Letting Lannan go was largely a financial decision for Washington, as he made $5 million last season and would have been in line to potentially make more than that via arbitration this winter. Simply put, paying a pitcher that much when he is not guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation is foolish and theoretically the Nationals could bring Lannan back for less money if they choose to. But on the other hand Lannan would certainly like to pitch in the big leagues, and that opportunity will have to come elsewhere for 2013.
Lannan does not profile as a top of the rotation strikeout pitcher (4.7 career K/9 rate), but he does possess a solid array of pitches and has proven to be durable thus far in his career. His sample size for 2012 is obviously small, but when looked at in the context of previous seasons his ground ball percentage is moving up (54.1 in 2011) while his fly ball percentage is trending down (25.1 in 2011).
Since he will not command a huge contract, Lannan should get plenty of interest on the free agent market from teams in both leagues. The fact he has never pitched in the American League may create some trepidation for teams, even if that is somewhat overrated at times, but that may also serve to drive his market value down. The Twins should at least be in line to make a fair offer here, and they can just move on to other options if things don’t work out.