The rest of the league thinks John Lannan is going to be dealt by the end of the spring. The Nationals are saying the opposite. They would know -- he's their player -- but they also have a vested interest in acting like they don't feel the need to move Lannan, especially when everyone else, as general manager Mike Rizzo says, "do[es] the math" and see the Nationals with more starters than rotation spots for 2012.
According to Danny Knobler, the Red Sox and Tigers are the teams most active in the pursuit of Lannan. Now, that could be relative -- maybe no one wants him that bad, and half-hearted effort is all it takes to climb Mt. Lannan. But, given the Red Sox haven't nailed down a definite fifth starter yet, and the Tigers are hosting their own spring invitational to win the job, it's certainly plausible they want Lannan for real.
Lannan isn't the picture-perfect ideal of a quality starting pitcher, but he's succeeded in being one during his four-plus years in the majors. We've delved into the why before, but as a refresher: Lannan isn't an extreme groundball pitcher, but has shown an ability to induce double plays at a rate well above the expected average. It's served him well, given his inability to miss bats, and allowed him to post a career 103 ERA+ and survive despite a 1.4 K/BB.
That being said, the Red Sox already have their share of pitchers who can do what Lannan does (or more) if given the chance. A healthy Aaron Cook would be a superior option to Lannan, and if Felix Doubront continues to pitch well this spring, then there's no reason not to just give him the job until he shows he doesn't deserve it. The Nationals aren't likely to just give Lannan up considering Stephen Strasburg will have an innings limit and the 2013 rotation is far from settled. Considering what the Sox have in tow already, unless the trade price is highly-favorable to Boston, maybe he shouldn't be a priority.
Nick Cafardo has a roundup worth reading about Red Sox position battles, with a little help from Ben Cherington. Much of what's in there has been discussed in this space before -- Jose Iglesias and his chances at the shortstop job, Daniel Bard's opportunity to start -- but what stuck out to me was the conversation regarding Alfredo Aceves and his role for the 2012 team:
Cherington said Aceves will continue to be stretched out as a starter, but the team will use him at it sees fit.
There's no doubt Aceves wants to start, because that's where the money is.
"Everyone in this business is motivated by different things,'' Cherington said. "We're aware of that. Ultimately our job is to put players in the best roles for us to win and also to factor in that we're trying to put together a team for six months, not just one month.
That sounds like a general manager who knows what he has in Aceves -- a versatile, quality arm -- and also understands that what matters on Opening Day might not be what matters by July. What the Red Sox are interested in now is building the best team they can for the year, and with the opt-outs and pitchers lacking options and all of those concerns about just how much depth Boston has, forcing Aceves into the rotation from the get-go when he could fit elsewhere would be an odd move.
Putting Aceves in the bullpen after stretching him out as a starter, given his ability to throw multiple important innings, makes a whole lot of sense for a team hoping to hold on to the likes of Doubront, Cook, and Andrew Miller. Especially since Aceves was successful and productive for Boston last year -- more so than your normal reliever -- because of how much he pitched. Not being in the rotation on Opening Day doesn't mean he can never be there, either: if it turns out Doubront, Cook, et al aren't the answer, Aceves will still be around. If Aceves goes in the rotation from the start, maybe those pitchers have already been claimed elsewhere or fled to another team with an immediate need.
Speaking of opt-outs, the new collective bargaining agreement has some new provisions in it regarding minor league contracts offered to players who have reached free agency after six years of service time. The Red Sox have two such players who are affected by these changes, in the aforementioned Cook and Vicente Padilla:
Article XX(B) free agents signing minor league contracts who are not added to the Opening Day roster or unconditionally released 5 days prior to Opening Day shall receive an additional $100,000 retention bonus and the right to opt out on June 1.
Matt Eddy of Baseball America collected a list of the players on minor league contracts who fit this criteria, and gave the example of Juan Pierre to explain how the system worked. It's worth reading, but also a little different in Boston's scenario.
Cook likely won't be on the opening day roster, but not because the Red Sox don't like him. They aren't pushing him to come back as soon as possible, rather, letting him come back at a pace that works for his shoulder's recovery. Cook came to Boston knowing this, and already had an opt-out built-in to his contract for May, anyway. The extra $100,000 won't be a significant problem for the Red Sox if he needs to start the year at Pawtucket in order to finish building arm strength, either, so he's likely a non-issue.
Padilla, on the other hand, has no such opt-out already, and has already been vocal about his desire to start. If he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, and it's clear his path to the bigs with Boston is coming through the bullpen, he might bolt.
This, by the way, is the reason why the Red Sox keep tabs on someone like Lannan. He's under team control, could be had in a trade -- and possibly at a low cost -- and could be sent to the minors or kept in the majors at Boston's discretion. Due diligence keeps surprises from being problematic.