In their short history, the Washington Nationals have been perennial runners-up in the free agency process. The Nationals didn’t land the biggest name in Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford, but they came pretty close with the signing of former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth.

The Nationals may have overpaid for Werth—not very surprising news considering his agent is Scott Boras. Washington gave the 31-year-old Werth a seven-year contract at an average of $18 million a year totaling $126 million.

While the yearly salary may be considered a reach for Werth alone, it is difficult to see Werth producing at a high level as a 38-year-old for the Nationals.

Washington may have overpaid for their new starting outfielder, but Werth also gives the Nationals a sense of legitimacy as contenders in the NL East. Washington has finished last in the division every year since the move from Montreal (six years) except for the 2007 season when they still lost 89 games.

Since becoming an everyday player three years ago, Jayson Werth has been one of the top sluggers in the National League. Werth has hit 87 home runs and driven in 251 runs over the last three seasons. One reason Werth commanded so much was the career year he had last season.

During the 2010 campaign, Werth had career bests in average (.296), runs (106), doubles (46) and slugging percentage (.532). Defensively, Werth was one of the best in the league as well with just four errors in 156 games and eight outfield assists.

Werth provides some pop in the middle of the order for the Washington Nationals, who could miss the production of Adam Dunn who departed for the White Sox. Clearly, Werth provides similar production with fewer strikeouts and far superior defense than Dunn.

The Nationals now feature a threatening lineup with Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham, the speedy Nyjer Morgan and one of the better players you’ve never heard of in Ian Desmond.

The problem will likely again come down to pitching. The starting staff was one of the league’s worst last season. Livan Hernandez was the only top of the rotation starter in 2010.

John Lannan disappointed after two strong seasons to begin his career and finished with an era of 4.65. Jordan Zimmermann could be another promising young pitcher who will look to improve as a regular starter.

Are the Nationals going to be able to compete with the favorite Phillies, improved Braves and the pesky Marlins?

It’s tough to imagine because of their pitching staff, but Werth does move them in the right direction offensively and defensively.

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