The Nationals currently rank 13th in the NL with a 4.41 rotation ERA. They've given starts to a dozen different pitchers, but let's try to figure out next year's top rotation candidates.
We know 22-year-old phenom Stephen Strasburg will head up the rotation next year, and baseball fans everywhere have to hope his shoulder inflammation is a non-issue. Though he's only made four starts this year due to minor elbow surgery, veteran Jason Marquis also probably has a spot locked up given his $7.5MM salary.
24-year-old righty Jordan Zimmermann is being handled carefully as he returns from Tommy John surgery; he has dominant numbers across eight minor league rehab starts this year and should be back next month. He's in.
Yunesky Maya is an intriguing wild card. The 28-year-old Cuban recently signed a four-year, $8MM deal, and last month GM Mike Rizzo suggested to MLB.com's Bill Ladson Maya is not far from a big league rotation.
Opening Day starter John Lannan has dealt with an elbow issue and was optioned to Double A in June. He stayed there for about a month. Lannan should be arbitration-eligible after the season and could earn a couple million bucks if tendered a contract.
Livan Hernandez, Scott Olsen, and Chien-Ming Wang are possibilities for 2011. Hernandez made it known he wants to re-sign. Olsen could be non-tendered again as the Nationals try to maintain their flexibility in December. He's done solid work but has dealt with a shoulder injury for much of the season. Wang is another non-tender candidate – he still has no timetable in his recovery from shoulder surgery. The Nationals have gotten nothing from this $2MM investment; will they pull the plug?
At least four more pitchers will be in the mix for 2011: Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, J.D. Martin, and Ross Detwiler. Atilano, Martin, and Detwiler have dealt with serious injuries this year. Stammen was recently sent to the bullpen, though he's pitched much better than his 5.05 ERA.
Despite all these options, we know Rizzo wants more. Back in June, he told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, "our biggest need is starting pitching." Rizzo seemingly flirted with the idea of acquiring Edwin Jackson from the Diamondbacks or White Sox at the trade deadline. It's reasonable to expect the Nationals to be active in the free agent and trade markets. One more front-rotation pitcher complementing Strasburg and Zimmermann would go a long way. On paper, the Nats could have one of the better rotations in the league entering next season.