NEW YORK — Nats manager Davey Johnson has maintained the stance for the last few weeks — and reiterated before Tuesday’s game at Citi Field — that he doesn’t see much sense in selling the farm for a rental if the team shuts down Stephen Strasburg, particularly given how well John Lannan pitched in a doubleheader spot start this weekend.
“I don’t look for us to be a buyer or a seller,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a great GM and he’s looking at all the players that might be available and seeing if there’s anyone that might be able to help us. Even with Strasburg being limited this year, we’ve got Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan, who are awfully good replacements. I like my bench, I like my bullpen, I don’t see the need to make any changes in makeup or configuration of the ballclub.”
A source tells MLB.com that the team is still looking for a starting pitcher that would be a better option than Lannan — who has been dependable over the last five years — or Wang, who has struggled in the rotation and bullpen and is currently on the DL.
The team is also in the market for a utility infielder to add depth to an middle infield unit that took a big hit with the loss of All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond, who could miss a month or more with an oblique tear.
Danny Espinosa, who shifted over from second base, is an entirely capable shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi, who played second in a limited role and also outfield, can play second on a regular basis. That figures to be the lineup for the foreseeable future, but that leaves Mark DeRosa as the team’s backup middle infielder. That being the case, it would make sense for the team to pick up another piece in case either Lombardozzi or Espinosa needs a day, or there is another injury.
Espinosa has been red-hot, taking a career-high nine-game hitting streak into Tuesday night’s game and is batting .414 (15-for-36) with three doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBIs in that span. Lombardozzi was a Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove recipient at second base in 2011.
“Danny has handled that transition from short to second — he had great training in college — and he’s looking like a very polished shortstop to me,” Johnson said.
The D-backs designated Ryan Roberts for assignment on Tuesday and our Steve Gilbert reports that a trade is near, but Roberts has played just one game at shortstop in his seven-year career.
– Joey Nowak
WASHINGTON — For all the talk about the Nationals seeking a replacement on the trade market for Stephen Strasburg if they shut him down in September, they may not even have to look that far.
Left-hander John Lannan made a spot start for the Nats on Saturday night in the 27-year-old’s 2012 debut, after starting 128 games for the club since 2007. He was excellent in the 5-2 victory and, given his familiarity with the club and how much the players and Davey Johnson enjoy playing with him, Lannan seems to be the most natural replacement for the few starts the club will need to fill later in the year.
“There’s no question,” Johnson said when asked if Lannan seems like the best option to replace Strasburg if/when the time comes. “I liked him last year. He had his rough times like everybody else, but he’s one heck of a competitor. He showed that tonight.”
There was a sort of “Win one for the Gipper” feel to this start after how much time Lannan has spent with the club over the years (he’s 38-51 with a 4.00 ERA and at least 25 starts in each of the last four seasons) and the fact that he was left out of the rotation after Spring Training.
Saturday, he walked two and gave up three hits and two runs in the first inning. But, once he settled down, as Johnson said, “he was as close to unhittable after that as you can get.” He went seven strong, scattering five hits and the two runs while striking out three and walking one.
“He’s had nothing but success in the big-league level,” closer Tyler Clippard said. “Done such great things for our team up here. It just is a testament to how good we are, how good our staff is. He deserves to be here, but he’s doing some things in Triple-A, working out some things he needs to work out, and when he gets here, he’s gonna contribute in a big way for us down the stretch.
I think he understands that, we all understand that. It was good to have him here and get his feet wet here and hopefully we see him soon.”
The question Johnson continues to ask rhetorically is, when the club is already paying a starter like Lannan, and valuable pieces it doesn’t want to give up, why go out and get a rental starter for a few starts down the stretch? It’s hard to say how many starts that pitcher would be needed — depending on the September schedule and how the postseason shakes out (and if the club makes it at all), but knowing you can turn to a guy who’s already in your organization is certainly a viable option.
“The whole situation, it’s a business,” Lannan said about spending this year in the Minors. “As much as you love the game of baseball, there’s other stuff that comes along with it. It is what it is. I was kind of upset when it first happened, but now as things are unfolding and things are going well for us, I think that I’m really excited to help this team out down the stretch.”
– Joey Nowak
WASHINGTON — Nats manager Davey Johnson offered his opinion Friday on the Trade Deadline and how it relates to his ballclub, which is entering a big four-game weekend series against the second-place Braves. Washington has been rumored to be in the market for a starter, mostly because it’s expected that ace Stephen Strasburg will be shut down by GM Mike Rizzo some time in September.
But Johnson made it pretty clear he doesn’t see the need in acquiring another pitcher, when they have a guy like John Lannan (has started 122 games for the Nats in the last four years, and is with Triple-A Syracuse this year but throwing in Saturday’s doubleheader) to fill in for that short time. And if Washington does make the playoffs, there may not be the need for that additional starter and the Nats would have essentially given up key pieces for that short rental.
“I like what we have here and I don’t see any emergency move needed,” Johnson said. “Then comes the question, why pick up a pitcher? We’ve got other options. We don’t have to ship away a couple talented minor leaguers for somebody. It’s not a wise move for a month or whatever.”
Johnson loves his bullpen and would rather not give up any of those key pieces. The Nats are playing with a shorter bench in order to keep that bullpen, so it may also be unlikely they give up a position player. And the farm system is obviously in good shape. He doesn’t see the sense in tinkering with it.
“Where we’re at as an organization and as a ballclub, we’ve built from the ground up and the talent that we’re high on is getting an opportunity to play and fill the need now,” Johnson said. “You don’t go ahead and make a trade to regress that process. You play it out. I like the way our club is put together and I don’t see any glaring weakness.”
The skipper was asked if he’s ever managed another club that he feels is as complete as this one, heading into the Trade Deadline. He responded “’86,” referring to the World Series champion Mets.
– Joey Nowak
WASHINGTON — If what the Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo are saying remains true, and they will actually shut down ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg when he hits 160 innings this season, the club will likely be in the market to replace him in the team’s already sterling starting rotation.
(To give you an idea of how important Strasburg has been — and would be missed — his Wins Above Replacement this season is 2.6. Though that’s not in the top 10 among MLB pitchers, it’s well above average. Justin Verlander leads MLB pitchers with 4.9, while Strasburg’s teammate Jordan Zimmermann clocks in at sixth with 3.3.)
The club has three pitchers with Triple-A Syracuse — Zach Duke, John Lannan and Yunesky Maya — who have more than 100 innings of experience starting this season, and Duke is the only one of the three to win more than six games (he’s 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA).
Lannan has plenty of big league experience, starting a total of 122 games for the Nats over the last four seasons, so he’s the most likely candidate from that threesome.
But if the team is going to look outside the organization, keep an eye on Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Francisco Liriano. Dempster seems to be the first pitcher on the block to be gaining steam, but FOXSports.com is reporting that the Nationals are not either of his top two choices.
If the Nationals are to go out and pick up a starter, they could be giving up a middle infielder, with Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond (who it’s almost certain they will not part with) and Steve Lombardozzi all producing this season.
The club also has great catching depth – with Wilson Ramos injured, Jhonaton Solano and Jesus Flores have both stepped up, and Davey Johnson has remarked that he’s never been around a team with such organizational depth at that position — but instead of dealing one of those players, Ken Rosenthal seems to think they’re more likely to acquire an everyday catcher.
This team is well ahead of schedule, sitting in first place, and is expected to get Jayson Werth and Drew Storen back soon. These factors may have Rizzo thinking a little more conservatively. Or, with the opportunity for the first playoff berth since the team returned to DC, he may pull out all the stops to cash in on what has already been a banner year.
Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke, who is currently operating without an agent, told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy that he would still consider a contract extension.
Greinke is preparing to enter his second season with Milwaukee and the final year of his four-year, $38 million extension he signed in January 2009. He cut his ties with CAA Sports last year, after the Brewers acquired Greinke in a trade with the Royals.
“It’d be me in charge as of right now,” he said. “So, we’ll see how long that lasts.”
Greinke, who was 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA and 201 strikeouts last season with the Brewers, had this to say about a possible extension: “I’ll talk to them about it. I don’t really want to talk to anyone else about it. But I like the business of baseball. It’s exciting for me. It’s not like I plan on being my agent, but it is exciting being able to know what’s going on behind the scenes.”
– Joey Nowak
Roy Oswalt remains one of the biggest names on the free agent market this offseason, and it looks like the Rangers have some interest in adding him to their already-loaded pitching staff.
The club is planning to meet with Oswalt and his agent, Bob Garber, on Monday for a get-together that is “exploratory,” MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reports. The addition of Oswalt could be costly, particular for a club that has three arbitration cases remaining and not much opportunity in the starting rotation.
“He’s somebody we’ve talked about, but we’re happy with our rotation and our pitching staff,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He’s intriguing, but I’m not sure exactly how it fits.”
Oswalt lives in Mississippi and has a long-standing relationship with Rangers club president Nolan Ryan. The Cardinals are also interested, and are high on Oswalt’s list, but St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak denied this weekend that a deal is in the works.
The Cardinals, who are also pretty well set in terms of starting pitching, are reportedly at least seriously in the running for Oswalt. MLB Network Radio reported Friday night that a deal was very close, and ESPNBoston.com reported that night that Oswalt has “elected to stay in the National League” and that he is “likely” to sign with the Cardinals “soon.”
But, as MLB.com’s Matthew Leach reported, Mozeliak wrote in an e-mail that reports were “not true.”
– Joey Nowak
A report from the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee says the Nationals are the front-runner to land All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder.
The Nationals have repeatedly denied such rumors, continuing to publicly say that Adam LaRoche will be the club’s first baseman in 2012, but the Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt cites an MLB official who says Washington is leading the chase for Fielder.
The report says the Nationals may not go the eight to 10 years that Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, is seeking. The club might want a shorter deal, but Haudricourt believes if the Nationals can match or exceed the $25.4 million annual salary that Albert Pujols is getting from the Angels, Boras and his client should still be pleased.
Toronto is close to signing veteran reliever Darren Oliver to a one-year contract with a possible option for 2013, MLB.com’s TR Sullivan has reported.
Oliver has spent at least a part of 18 seasons in the big leagues, the most of which (10 seasons) were with the Rangers. He was with Texas from 1993-98, then again from 2000-01 and for the last two seasons.
In 2011, the 41-year-old right-hander was 5-5 with 16 holds and a 2.29 ERA through 51 innings of work. He allowed six hits and four runs in 6 1/3 innings of postseason ball.
The Blue Jays would be the ninth Major League club that Oliver has suited up for.
– Joey Nowak
Major League Baseball released a statement Monday morning announcing that the Tokyo Yakult Swallows from Japan’s Central League have accepted the highest bid — submitted by the Brewers — for negotiating rights to outfielder Norichika Aoki.
MLB.com’s John Schlegel wrote this weekend that the Brewers’ winning bid for Aoki reportedly came in at $2.5 million.
The 29-year-old outfielder is a three-time Central League batting champion. A left-handed hitter, Aoki slipped to a .292 average and four homers in 2011, after going for career highs of a .358 average and 209 hits in 2010. He was the 2005 Central League Rookie of the Year, batting .344 in his first full season.
Milwaukee has 30 days to sign Aoki to a Major or Minor League professional contract.
– Joey Nowak
All the speculation surrounding Japanese phenom Yu Darvish is expected to end tonight.
It will be Tuesday morning in Japan when the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters make the announcement of which MLB club has won the bid for the young pitcher and whether it will be accepted. SI.com has reported that the bid exceeds the $51.1 million bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 as the highest in the history of posting of Japanese players.
CBSSports.com reported that the bid will be accepted, and many have speculated that the winning bid belongs to the Blue Jays or Rangers.
On Monday night, it will no longer be speculation.
– Joey Nowak