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Washington Nationals' New Look Could Mean Turnaround for Franchise

Cole ClaybournCorrespondent IDecember 25, 2009

Ever since the Washington Nationals settled in the nation's capitol in 2005, the franchise has consistently been the laughing stock of the National League East, and at times even the entire Major Leagues.

After a quick start in 2005 that placed the Nationals first in the NL East at the halfway mark, their downward spiral began, and so did their constant struggles.

The team has never finished higher than fourth in the division and has only won more than 80 games once.

Not even a new stadium in 2008 could help the team's woes as they had the worst record in the Major Leagues in 2008 and 2009, winning just 59 games each of those two seasons.

Attendance and ticket sales also dropped dramatically, even with a newly built stadium.

Manager Manny Acta was fired in July after posting a 26-61 record and was replaced by bench coach Jim Riggleman.

But Nationals fans might finally have a reason to be hopeful after general manager Mike Rizzo has made some noise in the free agent market this offseason, filling in major holes that the team had last season.

The team signed starting pitcher Jason Marquis to a two-year deal worth $15 million and former Pirates closer Matt Capps to a one-year deal in which the financial terms have not yet been disclosed.

Marquis brings his 15 wins from the 2009 campaign to Washington, a team desperate for starting pitching. He joins the likes of young pitchers such as Jordan Zimmerman, Jason Bergman, John Lannan, Matt Chico, Craig Stammen, and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLB draft, Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg is currently listed on the Nationals 40-man roster .

Capps was pursued by both the Nationals and the Chicago Cubs, but chose the Nationals because he will immediately have a chance to close games. He was an effective closer in Pittsburgh last season, tallying 27 saves.

He'll join a bullpen that posted a 5.09 ERA, which ranked 30th in the Major Leagues last season. The bullpen was so bad at one point in the season that Acta sent three relievers and a bullpen catcher to the minor leagues following three straight games in which the bullpen blew a late lead. He then brought up four relievers in hopes of rejuvenating the bullpen.

The team obviously struggled to close out games and never really had a set closer throughout the course of the season. So, Capps will provide some serious ninth inning insurance and stability.

The team also signed veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who will provide experience to the young pitching staff as well as occasional offensive spurts. Rodriguez will be entering his 20th season in the Major Leagues, currently holding the record for catching the most games at 2,388.

These three signees will join other team veterans such as power-hitting Adam Dunn, All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham, and a solid middle infielder in Christian Guzman.

Willingham posted decent power numbers last season after hitting 24 home runs with 61 RBIs. Dunn hit 38 HR with 105 RBI, and Zimmerman hit 33 HR with 106 RBI.

Nyjer Morgan is another potential star on this team after being traded from Pittsburgh last season. He stole 42 bases and hit .307 with both Pittsburgh and Washington, and will provide solid defense in center field.

The Nationals will still have to compete with the Phillies and the Braves for the NL East, but it looks like their time as cellar dwellers could be nearing an end with their new additions.

Follow Cole on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ColeClaybourn

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