Presumed Plan : Strasburg, Gio, and ZNN are set in stone. The fourth and fifth spots are up in the air right now, with Detwiler, Roark, and Jordan presumably fighting it out for the last two spots. Other potential starters would be the surprisingly decent Ross Ohlendorf and the organization's favorite upper minors pitching prospect, Nate Karns.
Reasoning on Presumed Plan : While Strasburg supposedly hasn't reached his potential, he's a top 10 pitcher in the majors, 6th in WHIP, 4th in Ks,11th xFIP. Gio and ZNN both took a half step back this year, but that still leaves them as Top 25ish pitchers, with expected ERAs in the 3.25-3.50 range. They all pitched 180+ innings and ended the year seemingly healthy.
The Nats really liked the way Detwiler pitched in 2012 and he started 2013 with an ERA under 3.00 before getting injured. Tanner Roark was remarkable to end 2013 sporting an ERA under 2.00 with fantastic control. Taylor Jordan wasn't as amazing (3.66 ERA) but pitched well enough to hold down a rotation spot. Ross Ohlendorf surprised the team with his equally decent performance (3.52 ERA as a starter). Nate Karns has the best raw stuff, unhittable in the minors with only one WHIP over 1.2 at any stop despite a bit of wildness. Among these 4 or 5 (depends on what they do with Ohlendorf who could get a big bump in arbitration) it seems like they could find 2 rotation worthy arms.
All of the five other guys have issues. Detwiler will also be 28 next season, has had 2 major injuries, and what amounts to a little more than one full good season of pitching in his favor. Plus his pre-injury pitching in 2013 had luck going his way as much as skill. Both Roark and Jordan have a history of much more questionable pitching prior to 2013, with WHIPs over 1.30, suggesting that this past season could have been a fluke. Roark especially got a lot of breaks in his stint. Ohlendorf (31 next year) also got lucky and has a long history of major league stats (5.10 ERA) backing up the thought that he's a mediocre pitcher. Karns was unable to translate minor league success to the majors, with the guys at the top finding his pitching easy to whallop. Does he have a fastball that is fast enough to dominate AAA guys, but flat enough that major leaguers will kill it?
My take : You can't argue with Strasburg, Gio and ZNN. Even if Strasburg isn't STRASBURG he's still easily a legitimate #1 starter in the majors. Even if Gio and ZNN are regressing, they are still good pitchers and give the Nats a Top 3 that is among the best in the majors.
It's after this that the plan falls apart. The idea that the Nats can go into 2014 with this bunch and expect to win is scary to me. Sure you could find two guys out of this group but let's look at what you have here really. A middling major leaguer who pitched over his head (Ohlendorf), a former top prospect who looks like he will never be consistently healthy enough to even see if he can reach his potential (Detwiler), a never was prospect who very possibly had a miracle season at a somewhat advanced age (Roark), a never was prospect who very possibly had a miracle season, though admittedly at a younger age where it is more likely to be real (Jordan), and a B prospect who has great stuff but may not have the command to translate that into major league success which is about the most common thing you will hear about pitching prospects (Karns).
I think they could end up with two guys out of this group who were good enough to be #4/#5 pretty easily. Maybe even better than that (I like Karns' stuff as much as the Nats do and Jordan, given age & surgery & no big luck in the majors, could also be real) but it's a maybe situation. What if they pick the wrong guys out of the gate? What if it's July before they figure out who is good? What if, god forbid, one of the big three get injured? What these five guys give you is not two starters to rely on, but depth behind the Top 4 guys you really like.
I don't think there is any question they need a fourth reliable major league arm for this rotation. Ideally, with Gio and ZNN possibly slipping, Stras' surgery, and the spectre of "no major injuries to these guys in over 2 years" it would be someone of their caliber. A top 2 type of guy. With the Nats not looking for a long term solution (none of the FAs are better/younger than their own guys, and they got a couple low-minor arms that could be looking to break through in late 2014 or 2015) they need a short term deal. I see three ways to go. My preference would be for Hiroki Kuroda. Back to the NL, almost certain to take a 1 year deal, still incredibly effective. Also possible is taking a small chance on Tim Hudson. I'm not sure the Braves will give up on him, or that the GA boy wants out of Atlanta, but he's still good when healthy and even though he's been bit by the injury bug he's still pitching more than half the year. If the Nats want to go really crazy with gambles there's Josh Johnson. He has familiarity with the NL East and is just two years removed from being a special pitcher. At age 30 he's not so old that you give up on him completely. If you really like the "Detwiler, etc." group than this is a good bargain gamble to take.
Outside the Box Suggestion :
It's about damn time someone went back to a 4 man rotation. I'm serious. A lot has been made about pitching health these days but when it comes down to it there is a decent argument to be made that the pitches matter more than the innings, meaning the wear and tear is all about the individual outing rather than having only 4 days of rest. Sure, we've seen guys on 3 days fail in the playoffs, but that's a real questionable thing to base a decision on. You are talking about guys pitching differently come October, at their most worn down, than they did all year long and doing it against what is likely one of the better lineups that they could face. Pitchers went on 3 days rest for 50 years. Those guys weren't special. We weren't tougher back then.
I think the ideal situation would be to do it with guys in their late 20s-early 30s who have a history of lack of injury. Their bodies aren't growing anymore, but they aren't at the point where they are completely breaking down either. Keep them on a nice pitch count and let them go. Strasburg doesn't quite fit the mold, but Gio and ZNN do in my mind. Add a say... Ricky Nolasco and run with it.
It's something that should really be trotted out by some team, but I doubt anyone has the guts to do it.