John Lannan. That is what Spring Training reduces us to – talking about the viability of John Lannan as a trade target. John Lannan is good at a few things and not great at a few others. He is very much alive and very much left-handed and thus: trade rumours.

Worse yet: they are only rumours. Nats GM Mike Rizzo spoke out today, explicitly stating the Nationals are not shopping their surplus starter but his phone continues ringing. Who and what could be after this most marginal of pitchers?

In the above-linked piece, GM Rizzo notes that having more pitchers than rotation spots is never a bad thing. Especially when the ace of your staff figures to be on a controlled innings limit for the season and another of the backend starters is trying to rebound after missing significant chunks of the last two years.

But baseball people still do the math and see needs for the Nationals that a Lannan trade may address. The most glaring hole in the Nats lineup is center field. As Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider notes, a pitcher like John Lannan isn’t going to fill that hole on his own.

[Rizzo]‘d love to acquire a big-league center fielder, though that’s probably a pipe dream. The more likely offer will be for a mid-level prospect, perhaps somebody targeted for high-Class A or Class AA who could be big-league ready by the end of 2012 or early in 2013.

Even that as a return for Lannan seems a little extreme. Lannan is a ground ball lefty who makes 30-odd starts a season and doesn’t strike out a soul. His control is pretty good but not on the level of more effective pitchers of his ilk such as

Consider Aaron Cook. Over the last three seasons, Aaron Cook has been a very similar pitcher to Lannan, save a broken finger that limited him to just 17 starts. They are most controlish ground ball pitchers who give up home runs at a league-average rate.

Cook signed a minor-league contract with the Red Sox this season but now Lannan is going to fetch a starting up-the-middle player? Doubtful. Lannan is a more durable option but, results wise, not too much separates them.

For the right team, like the Red Sox or Tigers, Lannan represents the standard innings eater a high-octane offense needs to spare its bullpen and fill in any obvious gaps. Teams at the other end of the spectrum, like the Astros (!) just need players who look like big leaguers to fill out their uniforms.

With all the question marks in the Nationals rotation, it will take a serious overpay to pry Lannan away from Washington. Which, considering the availability of not-dissimilar pitchers, doesn’t seem too likely. Don’t underestimate his ability to survive a liner to head. It is the new inefficiency, or so I’ve heard.