For a couple years now, we've all assumed that the Nats have been building toward 2013. Why 2013? Well for one, it gave them a fair amount of time to internally develop some high quality young players. The other, bigger reason though, was that Zimmerman is due to be a free agent after the 2013 season. You have to figure if the franchise can't come up with a legit playoff team in 9 years, that he'd be ready to walk for greener pastures, despite all the "promise" the Nats can lay at his feet. Lose Zimmerman and you've made competing that much tougher.
But after last year's rise toward .500 and the introduction of the 2nd Wild Card, things have been different. It now looks like the Nats, with some luck and a couple of key moves, could compete in 2012. The fanbase sees this, is ready to go after 7 years of terrible baseball, and has to be managed delicately so as not to create outsized expectations.
It's not so much that the Nats tried to get a starter and a centerfielder and failed (so far). It's that they let everyone know they wanted to get a starter and centerfielder, then went out and failed. Expectations were set and quickly not met.
The Nats could use a starter because here are the number of major league innings pitched by the Nats early rotation not named John Lannan : 192.1, 97, 92, and 62. Oh, did I mention that this was for 2011 AND 2010 combined? And that every single one of these guys has had a major injury in the past 2+ years? So they need that extra Livan-like arm, but it doesn't have to be a Buehrle. A 1-yr deal for any decent arm would give the Nats security that they won't have to burn through the bullpen and a chance to go through a bunch of their young arms to see who can survive, and maybe thrive, in the majors.
The Nats could use a centerfielder because they don't have one. But maybe with one more year of Roger Bernadina stop gap, Bryce Harper proves competent enough to man that position while he's in his youth. Then instead of a CF the Nats could focus on getting a much easier to find corner outfielder or first baseman for their 2013 push.
Don't get me wrong, it doesn't put the Nats in the best shape to do nothing this year. It's hard to do everything you want in a single off-season and rather than see problems get solved with time, it's more likely that new problems will open up (say Desmond fails again and the Nats bullpen implodes). They really should do something but they don't have to do something. If the goal is "Playoffs in 2013" then the expectations should remain there. Let Rizzo have the rope to hang himself or swing across the bow of the ship like a swashbuckling hero.