Nationals starter John Lannan, who didn’t make the team’s Opening Day roster and was demoted to AAA Syracuse to start the year, has demanded a trade after not making the roster. One team that apparently has interest is the Chicago Cubs, but my major question about the Cubs interest in Lannan is “why?”
The Cubs have a solid, albeit unspectacular, rotation consisting of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad, and Paul Maholm. The team also has Randy Wells, a starter over the last couple of seasons for the Cubbies, at AAA. Of those five, all but Samardzija were starters last year, though only Dempster, Wells, and Garza spent the year in the Windy City. Garza, Dempster, and Maholm were all two win pitchers who qualified for the ERA title. Volstad also qualified for the ERA title, but had the exact same value as Lannan at 1.3 fWAR.
At 27 years-old, and making $5 million this season, Lannan really isn’t the type of pitcher that the Cubs should be targeting in their efforts for at least a partial rebuild. He’s never been worth more than a win and a half over his career, and still has a year of arbitration left, meaning that he’ll get more expensive if the Cubs want to keep him around next year. Lannan’s best suit is his ability to get ground balls, over 52% for his career. That would have led the Cubs staff over the last four years, though Maholm is right behind him.
If the Nationals are willing to pick up a deecnt chunk of the money owed to Lannan, I think he could be a good fifth starter for the team. Despite striking out less than five battes per nine for his career, he’s a durable innings eater that has a career ERA of 4.00 and has an uncanny ability for outperforming his peripherals. But if the Cubs WOULD acquire Lannan, that would shift Volstad to the sunk cost category that Wells is in. Both guys are making north of $2.5 million, while Wells waits in AAA for his chance and Volstad hangs out in the back-end of the Cubs rotation. Volstad might not play out too well in Chicago, due to a high career homer rate that really could spike if the wind is blowing out at Wrigley.
But if I were Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, I wouldn’t see much of a reason TO acquire Lannan. This Cubs team really isn’t going anywhere, and a player like Lannan doesn’t fit into their long-term plans. The Cubs have a pair of fifth starters already, so why would they want to add a third and slightly upgrade at the spot? The upgrade from going to Volstad to Lannan would be so minimal that it would really just be like adding a fresh coat of paint to a totalled car.