Nats Introduce Lo Duca, Milledge

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, December 12, 2007 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals introduced catcher Paul Lo Duca and outfielder Lastings Milledge to the media yesterday in a press conference at their downtown offices.

Lo Duca, 35, signed a reported one-year, $5 million contract with the team to become its new everyday catcher. He is a career .288/.338/.414 hitter in ten big league seasons, with 80 home runs to his credit. Last season for the Mets he hit .272/.311/.379, all season low totals since becoming a full-time player in 2001. "I'm excited to be part of a team that's young and has a chance to win this division," Lo Duca said.

In the introductions, Nats GM Jim Bowden went to particular lengths to make sure why Lo Duca was being brought in. "He's a winner. He has never been with a losing team. Ever," Bowden said. "He wins, that what he does." Lo Duca is a four time all-star who has played with the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Florida Marlins. Lo Duca joked about his motivation for joining the Nats, instead of taking a widely speculated offer from the Toronto Blue Jays, was "getting to play the Mets 18 times." He added, "A big part with me was staying in the National League, being familiar, knowing the National League East."

When asked about replacing Brian Schneider, a long-time member of the organization and one of its "faces", he laughed and said, "I've stepped in Mike Piazza's shoes three times now," but being a clubhouse leader is "not my role. This clubhouse belongs to Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young and some of those guys."

Milledge was reserved but eager to prove himself. "We're gonna go out there, we're gonna bust our tail and we're gonna win," he said. He also said he doesn’t feel any added pressure coming into a team looking for him to be part of building a franchise and putting its stamp on the rest of the league. "The opportunity is great here, I have to come out here and win a position and nothing is set in stone," he said.

"I can't wait to play for a team that believes in young talent," Milledge said, and expressed his surprise that the Mets traded him within the division. He also proclaimed his happiness to stay in the NL East where he was "just learning the pitchers and teams." He finished, "Right now I just need the opportunity to play, and that's what the Washington Nationals are going to give me."

BOTTOM LINE: Signing Lo Duca allows the Nats to be patient with Jesus Flores next year, and Bowden and Manager Manny Acta left the door open to the possibility that Flores might start in the minors. Acta said, "That's a decision we haven't made yet. Come spring training, depending on how Jesus comes in and shows his progress, then we'll make a decision. If he shows up to spring training and [Flores] convinces us that the best way to go would be to have him here with Paul…we'll do it."

Lo Duca's numbers are clearly on the downside, but he has always hit for decent average and hardly ever strikes out. His on base percentage isn't what you look for from someone with low strike out numbers, but he can be a tough out at the bottom of the line-up for the Nats next year if his average returns to career norms. Signing a one-year deal at the age of 35 has to be a signal to all, including Lo Duca, that his time here is to hold the spot for Flores until he's ready to face big league hitting every night of the week.