Let's get into it starting with one managing comment. (Side note : I have to admit I liked what I heard from Matt Williams. At least he's singing it. Now will he bring it? Again we're talking a month or so into the season before we can really know what type of manager he is for 2014)
Do you really think managers make little difference?
Yep. Even if I didn't, I think the effects of managing can be hard to pin down. So better to say - since you can't show that you can rely on it, you can't expect managerial changes to make big differences. (obviously some terrible situation are exceptions). You just hope it seemingly works out.
Why did you say ZNN went back? He pitched better!
My fault completely I guess I stopped paying attention to ZNN at the end of the year. I can admit my mistakes. He did pitch arguably better, though I'd argue more "he pitched within error to how he pitched the year before". Either way he certainly did not pitch worse.
One thing to note though is that my statement was predicated on the ERA bump. Of course ERA is a little wonky as a predictor, but his ERA last year was more in line with how he pitched than his luckier 2012. In other words, we're not likely to get a "runs given up" result much better than 2013. He pitched better AND the results matched up better. So 2013 is ZNN, 2012 is ZNN with some luck. (forget Wins and losses for this)
What about Haren? He came around.
No, and it's all about appearances really. Rizzo wouldn't actually be making the same mistake twice if it didn't work out again. In 2013 he made the mistake of paying 13 mill for a injured star hoping for one last great year. The 2014 mistake, if it happened, would be paying say 8 mill for a dependable veteran pitcher whose newspaper stats and bad start covered up a decent year. But still it would totally FEEL like he made the same mistake twice because the pitcher in question didn't change, just the situation around him. Gamble on a losing horse once and your loss can be forgiven. Gamble on it again and people start really questioning your decision making. (If Haren was the only option maybe you do it, but he isnt so why bother?)
What about trading Strasburg?
Yikes. Well ok, if you aren't going to sign him then I can see your point. Pitchers are fragile and his value could go down so deal him now when teams think they might be getting something really special instead of say a borderline #1. Ok, well do you think you are really going to get fair value for him? You'd have to get back value that would help now (no prospects) or you'd be hurting this team for a while.Yet you aren't going to trade Strasburg to a team that's a few years away because of his upcoming FA status. So you have to find a team in the hunt willing to deal key players away? Tough gig. Just for funsies here's my opinion on if the other guys would do it.
Trout, straight up - NO! AND DON'T COME BACK!!
Price and Myers - No. Only giving up a year of FA. (Price is a FA after 2 years, Stras 3). One year isn't worth Myers' future value for a team that has had offensive issues
Greinke and Kemp - Hmmm. If only to get that Kemp deal off the books (but then the Nats have it.). Do this deal, sign Tanaka. That's a hell of a staff to cover for a potentially anemic offense.
McCutchen and Liriano - Doubtful. The combination is right (the off player being one they probably don't need for the future) but Cutch is the face of the team, a Top 3 all around player, and on a reasonable deal.
Votto and Chapman - In a heartbeat if they were smart. Votto's deal is loco and Chapman has been marginalized. They don't really need SP so they could then flip a SP to get a decent Votto replacement (or resign Choo move him to first and sign/get a decent CF), but teams are rarely this imaginative.
Goldschmidt and Miley - No. Goldschmidt is under a nice deal for longer than Stras. It'd be a tough call on a deal Goldy for Stras straight up. Ask for a decent young cheap SP as well and it's an easy no.
Side note : research shows Braves didn't balk on trade of Andres Thomas to Pirates for Barry Bonds. If it really took place seems like Pirates balked, as they should. They maybe wanted Blauser but Braves didn't want to deal him. But we're getting to 2nd level conjecture here.
What about Freddy Garcia on a minor league deal?
Anyone on a minor league deal is a good sign (barring something like Simontacchi attempting a comeback) It's a super low risk move.
Too much money. He was better but only good and there's going to be a "remember when he was even better? Maybe he can do that again." cost to his contract.
If you can get 5 good starters why go with a 4 man?
Well you wouldn't. Like you said - if the average of the 4 man is much better than that 5th it's worthwhile. Remember it's 7-8 starts you are keeping from Stras, Gio, & ZNN EACH. Even for the Nats, who have a glut of guys that look like decent 5ths, I'd say they get alot more from 21-24 more starts from this Top 3.
What about using more pitchers - let match-ups dictate the 5th guy?
Like a pitcher platoon? I like it. Pitchers will probably balk at it - everyone loves routine. Plus if a guy does really well in a couple starts, even if it is match-up related, and his pitching platoon partner does not, you've created a distraction as everyone asks for pitcher A to pitch more. It could work. It might not be worth the issues that could come along with it. Love to see more of this thinking though.
What about Tanaka?
Oh yeah I mentioned Masahiro Tanaka briefly in another answer but quickly - he's a 26 year old from Japan who is awesome in the Japan league (a little more normal in the admittedly brief WBC outings) that will likely sign somewhere. The cost will be astronomical for him as the bid (which is a huge part of the deal) isn't a salary cap issue and the contract signed after that is a relative bargain (Darvish is 10 mill a year, for example). Anyway expect that to make the Yankees and Dodgers etc. throw a ton of money, more than the Nats will.
Would I love to see the Nats do it? Absolutely. But again that's in a "no salary limit" world that the Nats should, but don't, live in.