But I look at it this way: Detwiler earned the job. He deserved the job. It was a prudent baseball move, for the current Nationals and for the future Nationals.Let's ignore the fact that saying "He earned a spot in Spring Training" fits right between "We got him for his veteran presence" and "We've just signed Jayson Werth for 7 years, 126 million" as things you hope to never hear you GM say. It's the second sentence where the half-truths come in.
The current Nats aren't necessarily improved by making Detwiler the 5th starter rather than John Lannan. Veterans are overpaid because they have less variation in results. John Lannan will give you 180IP+ with an ERA of around 4.00. That's what history tells us. Detwiler may have the same base expectation level but while you can expect Lannan to fit between 3.90 and 4.30 or so, Detwiler has more variation in his outcomes ranging all the way from "surprisingly good" to "can't cut it and returns to long relief in less than a month". If you want the highest chances of that 5th starter putting out a decent season Lannan is the obvious way to go.
Disagree? Think Rizzo is simply committed to bringing the best 25 to DC? Then I have a few names for you. First one is Bryce Harper. Next few are Xavier Nady, Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, and Brett Carroll. The best 25 is garbage talk.
Then why chose Detwiler over Lannan? Well the simplest reason is because they can. John Lannan has options left, Ross Detwiler does not. We've seen this thinking drive many a "but wait, doesn't that actually make the major league team a little worse?" decisions in the past and we'll see it again in the future. GMs value control almost as much as they value winning.
It certainly could be because it helps the future Nats. Barring some sort of injury apocolypse, John Lannan just isn't part of the future in Washington. ZNN, Strasburg and Gio are all good through at least 2015. The Nats have a handful of other arms they like in the minors (Purke, Meyer, Solis, Ray) that they'd expect another starter to shake out from by the end of 2013. That's four slots taken. It's hard to beleive that the Nats would spend the moderate cash money to sign a back of the rotation guy like Lannan as he heads into FA in 2013 rather than spend big money to bring in another big name pitcher or spend no money and try to make do with minor league fill-ins. You know I'm a huge Lannan fan - signing him after 2013 is the least sensible thing to do. So given that, why not see if Detwiler (FA in 2016) can fill that "cheap minor league fill-in" role or do even better?
There is a second reason to start Detwiler though and it has to do with Rizzo's obsession with Wang (of the Chien-Ming variety, get your minds out of the gutter!) And here it could be said, if you work through the double talk, that keeping Detwiler up is the prudent move for this year. When Wang is healthy Rizzo will want him to pitch. That seems obvious. It will be a lot easier to move Ross to long relief for Wang if he is doing fair or worse, than it would be to shift John Lannan down to the minors under the same circumstances. This for me, is really why Rizzo made this move. It's not that he values Detwiler more than Lannan. It's that he values Wang more than either of those two and considers keeping Detwiler up "keeping the seat warm" for Chien-Ming.
But whatever the reason for a few games the Nats will be ever so slightly hurting their chances of winning games, same with leading off Desmond, or not fixing CF, of having to play any of that bench Rizzo constructed while drunk on Mai Tais at the Winter Meetings. If the Nats end up a game or two out you can look back to these in totality as much as any surprise underperformances.