Strasburg down. Let's assume the worst right now - TJ surgery back in 2018. What does that mean?
Can the Nats lose the East?
Well, I imagine it's technically more likely today than yesterday but more likely than "practically impossible" is still pretty close to "impossible" Nats have 23 games left, Mets 22. If the Nats go say... 9-14, which would be a pretty amazingly terrible finish given the team talent level and the competition, that means the Mets have to go 17-5 just to tie. In other words it would take an epic meltdown combined with an epic surge to make it happen. Perhaps if there were 6-7 H2H games left, perhaps, but there are only 3.
What happens to the rotation?
Oh god. I don't know. Joe Ross is likely a couple spins in the rotation away from returning and they don't even know if they want him to come fully back as a starter, or take a more cautious approach. Giolito is having mysterious velocity issues (seemingly not injury related) and Lopez is a four inning pitcher against teams from outside Atlanta. My guess is AJ Cole remains in because they don't care if he burns up through 100 pitches, and Mat Latos slides in at 5 until Ross is back. Once Ross is back he'll nominally be back in the rotation but likely very limited. I wouldn't be surprised if he goes 3-5 innings for the three starts he might have with someone else piggybacking him. For the playoffs? Depends on how all these guys do but Gio Gonzalez Game 3 starter is pretty much set now.
How badly does this effect the Nats playoff chances?
I didn't look at any odds, but I imagine they take a significant hit. Moving from Strasburg to Gio you are replacing a 1.104 WHIP guy, 11.2 K/9, 2.93 FIP with a 1.303 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.86 FIP. It's a clear step down if not more. Plus you are adding in whatever mix in Game 4 that wouldn't have even pitched in the playoffs normally. That's a step down too.
Does it kill the Nats chances? Not at all. They are still 4th in the NL in runs scored and have one of the clear best pitchers in the game today in Max Scherzer as their number 1. They also have a #2 that's having his 2nd great season in 3 years. They have a bullpen loaded with good arms. This is still a very good team.
Down the line concern
Gio's definitely back now, right?
100% But we thought that before and honestly I wouldn't worry about the 2018 option. If he's pitching enough to hit 180 he's likely pitching well enough you are ok with another year of him at the back of the rotation.
Strasburg just signed a big contract! That isn't good is it?
No it isn't. There are two issues here. First is that the Lerners have bumped the budget up one time, in 2015, complained all the while, and immediately knocked it back down by 25 million. It doesn't seem likely that they'd be willing to spend the money necessary on a player that would help make up the gap that Strasburg will leave in 2017. Not to mention that number hanging over every year until 2023 (and beyond - thanks to the Nats creative payroll schedule). If the Lerners are committed to that 130-150 range, and Strasburg is never a Top 3 rotation guy again, it could be an albatross creating a hump the team can't get over.
Even if they were that type of ownership though, there is not a pitcher out there who fits that bill. It was a weak class to begin with which is why it was a surprise Strasburg signed. Now the best they can hope for is fighting with others for a year of RA Dickey or 2 of the never healthy Rich Hill. Doug Fister? There are a couple of players that would make a difference Cespedes, Bautista, Encarnacion. Cespedes would have to be the main target as he could go into center and have Turner move to shortstop (sorry Espy - no carrying of you anymore). But the other two would require making Zimm a sunk cost on the bench as well - something I don't know if the Nats are prepared to do right now.
Could they trade for someone?
Sure but it'll cost you. The White Sox, for example, balked at deals for Sale or Quintana (both great targets) when the Red Sox wouldn't include Jackie Bradley Jr. He's not a great player yet but he's close a 26 year old who has decent patience, good fielding, very good power, and is hitting .272 in the majors. Sort of a young Werth. Difo and Cole ain't cutting it. Maybe Robles, Lopez, plus? I'd do it - you only have so much Scherzer time left (as much as we actually know about arms) and maybe so much Bryce time left too, but I understand the hesitation. That especially true of the Nats, an organization that seems to be aiming for consistent general success that needs a consistent feed of young talent.
So the window is closed?
Not at all. Thanks to being in the NL East the Nats have some leeway. The Mets can't stay healthy and it's not like they are getting younger. They also could easily lose their two best hitters (Walker and Cespedes) in the off-season. Right now they are a hard team to peg - you could have them at 90 wins or 70 wins next year given circumstances and I couldn't disagree. The Marlins are the up and comers but still need to get that rotation sorted out to be a real threat and as we've noted - there is little in free agency. Also the Marlins farm system is terrible so trades for anyone other than a back of the rotation guy you might get one-year lucky on are not happening. The Phillies would have been a hip choice because of some decent young pitching that could all blossom next season ala the 2012 Nats, but Nola is suffering elbow issues, and no one else looks ready to fill in that 3rd spot, let alone 4 or 5. Plus Maikel Franco turned from a prince to a frog this year and took what little offense they had with him. This is a team that has all the pieces...except the stud bat and star pitcher. The Braves aren't close.
Short version - not for 2017 and it's too early to look beyond that right now.
What's the success rate for 2nd Tommy Johns? Can we count on Strasburg at some point?
With more guys getting these surgeries and the techniques improving, it's a moving target. There's reason to believe that what was a ~75% success rate for 1st surgeries is closer to 90% now. Mind you that "success" is defined as back pitching in a major league baseball organization in some capacity, but that's something. I'd imagine 2nd TJ probably tracks below that, but not too far. So the problem isn't really if he can get back from it. I think there's a good chance he will. Instead, it's who he is when he gets back and that is far less promising. I'll spare you the details but most of these guys, even after TJ #1, put up fairly short uninspiring careers. Granted it depends on where you start from and Strasburg isn't a AAAA type hanging on. But odds are very good he's not a #1 anymore when he gets back, and pretty good he's nothing.
So no, you can't. Sorry.
Any good news?
The Nats will win the East in 2016. They will make the playoffs, possibly with HFA in the NLDS, and at that point anything can happen. 2013 and 2015 should have taught you (and the Nats) but in case it didn't - ride out every season as if this may never happen again, because honestly it might not. The Nats have a chance in 2016, a better chance than the 20 teams not in the playoffs and the 4 wild card teams blowing their best starter on a one-game playoff. Don't let that fact get away from you.