John Lannan was non-tendered last week, ending his Washington Nationals career. Unheralded coming out of Sienna College, Lannan needed about 2 years to go from an 11th round draft pick to a starting pitcher. His Nats debut proved to be one of the more memorable during those early years. Pitching in Philadelphia, Lannan hit too consecutive batters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Hunter Wendlestat threw Lannan out prompting then color commentator Don Sutton to go off on a rant:
I don’t remember how it started, but the meme John Lannan – American hero was born. Following the Nats in those days wasn’t easy and making a folk hero helped fans cope. Lannan went 2-2 in the 2007 season. He also held Barry Bonds, then sitting on 755 career home runs, hitless in four at-bats in a no-decision.
In 2008, Lannan made 31 starts and went 9-15 on a 100+ loss team. His ERA was 3.91 though. Lannan would start on Opening Day in 2009 and 2010. He pitched “out of position” and held his own for a while before being demoted in 2010. After returning from a stint in Harrisburg, Lannan was a better pitcher and finished that season strong. In 2011, no longer needed to be the #1, Lannan set his career high for wins with 10 against 13 losses and an ERA of 3.70. Lannan, a pitch-to-contact pitcher continued to induce double plays and even increased his velocity. He also hit a home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Dodger Stadium.
Lannan looked to be the #5 in the rotation for a the 2012 Nats, but simply got beat out in Spring Training by Ross Detwiler. Unhappy at the time and understandably so, Lannan asked to be traded, but was denied. He struggled in AAA Syracuse for a good portion of the season, seemingly validating the decision. However, Lannan came up big during his brief call-ups though, coming through with two big wins before being sent down immediately after each time. In September, he took Stephen Strasburg’s spot in the rotation and finished up the season 4-1. Though he was off the playoff roster, Lannan finally got to be part of a winning team.
The decision to let Lannan go is smart one — he made $5 million last year to ride buses for 5 months and it would be bad faith for the Nats to make him do that again. In a more perfect and sentimental world he would have been pitching for the Nats the year they won the pennant, but that isn’t the way it worked out. He won’t get $5 million a season wherever he winds up next, but he should get a multi-year contract. Lanan was a bridge between the brutal seasons and respectability and for that Nats.