Nats must decide on Lannan, Flores

Nats must decide on Lannan, Flores
November 27, 2012, 9:30 am
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Another of baseball's offseason deadlines arrives late Friday night, when all clubs must tender contracts to all players who aren't already signed for 2013.

For most, this is a mere formality, the acknowledgment by the organization that it intends to keep said player for another season. But for a handful of players -- typically those who have more than three years of service time and thus are arbitration-eligible -- this can be a tense time.

Arbitration-eligible players are guaranteed to make decent money, at minimum 80 percent of what they made the previous season but typically much more than that. If a player who falls into this category hasn't performed up to snuff but stands to earn a raise through the arbitration process, he becomes a candidate to be "non-tendered," which is just a fancy way of saying he's released and becomes a free agent.

Most clubs non-tender at least one or two players each winter, and the Nationals have shown a willingness to do just that over the years. They non-tendered reliever Doug Slaten last December, and the previous year non-tendered Wil Nieves, Joel Peralta and Chien-Ming Wang (they later re-signed Wang).

The Nationals have a boatload of arbitration-eligible players this winter, 10 of them to be precise. Most are key contributors and will be tendered contracts without a second thought: Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Roger Bernadina.

There are three players, however, who could conceivably be out of jobs come midnight Friday: John Lannan, Jesus Flores and Tom Gorzelanny.

Start with Lannan, probably the most difficult decision of the bunch. After relegating him to Class AAA Syracuse for much of last season despite his $5 million salary, the Nationals seemed to be saying they had no long-term use for the left-hander.

But Lannan did come up big when the Nationals needed him to make six late-season starts, four of them in place of the shut-down Stephen Strasburg. There remains a good amount of support for the 28-year-old within the organization, and there are some who would like to see him get the No. 5 starter's job that was snatched away from him last spring.

There are two problems, though: 1) Lannan is guaranteed to make at least $4 million, and will probably make more than that, perhaps even a raise from last year's salary, and 2) he's out of options and thus can't be sent back to Syracuse again in 2013.

It's no secret that general manager Mike Rizzo has listened to trade offers for Lannan for some time. To date, no one has offered enough in return to get Rizzo to pull the trigger. And it's unlikely anyone will up the ante now, knowing Lannan could be had for nothing next week.

Which leaves the Nationals to decide whether to simply cut ties with the lefty now or go ahead and tender him a contract, committing either to paying him the full $5 million or so to be a part of their 2013 rotation or perhaps releasing him during spring training when they would only be on the hook for about one-sixth of his salary.

(That final scenario sounds like the most plausible solution. The Nationals can tender Lannan his contract, then wait and see if he's needed in the Opening Day rotation or if a solid trade offer finally is made. If neither happens, he can be cut loose in mid-March at a fraction of the cost.)

While there are scenarios that would result in Lannan making the Nationals' Opening Day roster, there really aren't any plausible ones that would result in Flores making it. Both Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki would probably have to be injured for Flores' services to be required. And even then, the Nationals have plenty of young catching depth in Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon.

Flores, who made $850,000 last season, won't cost an arm and a leg, but there's simply no place for him in the organization anymore. It would be an unfortunate parting with the 28-year-old catcher, who was originally plucked away from the Mets in the 2006 Rule 5 draft, but it's probably time for both sides to go their separate ways.

Gorzelanny certainly was a valuable piece to the Nationals' bullpen last season, a durable left-hander who could eat up innings when a starter got knocked out early. And the club would happily take him back next year.

The only downside: Gorzelanny already made $3 million last season and will receive a raise next season. Is a long reliever and mop-up man really worth that much money? Probably not, but considering the shortage of lefties in the Nationals' bullpen at the moment -- Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez each are free agents -- there may be no choice but to tender Gorzelanny a contract and pay him a hefty sum for a role that doesn't usually command one.