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Nats in the market for catcher

Nats in the market for catcher

NASHVILLE -- Now that Brian Schneider is a member of the Mets, the Nationals are looking for a catcher.

It's not certain if they are looking for a starter or backup. A few hours after Schneider was traded, general manager Jim Bowden and manager Manny Acta did not anoint Jesus Flores as the starting catcher. In fact, Bowden went so far as to say that Flores could be sent down to Triple-A Columbus to start the season and better learn his craft.

A Rule 5 Draft pick, Flores impressed the Nationals during his rookie season. He hit .244 with four home runs and 25 RBIs, and found himself in a platoon with Schneider during the month of September.

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"We think Flores can develop into a No. 1 catcher," Bowden said on Friday. "I can't tell you how the rest of the offseason is going play to out, so I prefer to answer the question the beginning of April."

On Sunday, a day before the Winter Meetings started, the Nationals had a list of catchers who were available. According to two sources, Washington has free agent Damian Miller on top of their list. Miller, who is best remembered for his years with the Diamondbacks, has been a starter most of his career, but was a backup for the first time with the Brewers in 2007. In 58 games, Miller, 38, hit .237 with four home runs and 24 RBIs.

Miller said on Sunday that he has interest in playing with the Nationals.

"It depends on the situation -- what's good for me and my family, he said. "They have a new stadium next year. That will certainly help. They have an up-and-coming team and they have a bunch of good guys. Let's see what happens."

Michael Barrett, who came up in the Expos organization, and Paul Lo Duca are also free agents. But with a team rebuilding, it would seem unlikely that Washington would want to give multi-year contracts to those two players.

No one has ever questioned Barrett's skills as a hitter, but, dating back to his days with manager Frank Robinson in Montreal, Barrett's game calling has been considered below average.

Winter Meetings

Lo Duca is considered a leader behind the plate. He hit .272 with nine home runs and 54 RBIs for New York this past season.

Johnny Estrada and Gerald Laird most likely will be looking for new homes. Estrada, who is expected to be non-tendered by the Mets soon, is a quality hitter with limited catching skills. According to published reports, his game calling also is below average.

The Rangers announced recently announced Jarrod Saltalamacchia will become the starting catcher, making Laird expendable. The Rangers are looking for an outfielder or relief pitcher in exchange for Laird's services.

If Flores is the starter, the Nationals could settle for Chad Moeller as the backup. Moeller, one of 19 Minor League free agents the Nationals signed recently, is a veteran of eight big league seasons with the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Dodgers Twins and Reds. Moeller is a career .224 hitter with 26 homers and 113 RBIs. Moeller played in a combined 30 games with the Dodgers and Reds in 2007, hitting .161 with a homer and two RBIs.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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