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John Lannan spent most of last season at Class AAA Syracuse.
Turns out the Nationals do have the ability to send the left-hander back to Class AAA in 2013 because he still has one remaining minor-league option.
The remaining option, confirmed by a club official, comes as a surprise to many who believed Lannan had already used up all three given to professional ballplayers. What most didn't realize what that the option the Nationals used on Lannan at the beginning of the 2008 season didn't count because he was recalled to the majors only eight days later.
The "option" terminology is a bit misleading, because each one encompasses an entire season. For example, Lannan was optioned to Syracuse three separate times this year, but that counted as only one of his three career options.
Lannan also spent five weeks at Class AA Harrisburg during the summer of 2010, using up a second option. But what was previously believed to be a third option in 2008 doesn't actually count.
On March 26, 2008, the Nationals optioned the lefty to what was then their Class AAA affiliate in Columbus. He never actually appeared in a game, though, and was quickly recalled on April 4 after closer Chad Cordero was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement stipulates that an option is used up only if a player spends at least 20 days in the minors. Lannan spent only eight days with Columbus and remained in the majors the rest of the 2008 season; thus he never used up his option.
The end result of all this: If they want, the Nationals could do the same thing to Lannan in 2013 that they did this year. If tendered a contract before tomorrow night's deadline, he'll be guaranteed to make at least $4 million next season. The Nationals could either keep him in their Opening Day rotation, trade him to another club or once again send him to Syracuse to serve as a valuable (albeit pricey) insurance policy in case one of their other starters is injured.
What about the rule that gives veteran players the right to refuse assignment to the minors? That only applies to those who have at least five full years of big-league service time.
Though he's now appeared in parts of six big-league seasons, Lannan has only accrued 4 years and 96 days of service time, leaving him 84 days short of veteran status.