According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Major League Baseball may punish the 14 players who appear in the infamous Mitchell report for violations after the 2004 rule changes. And, of course, the biggest free agent the Nationals signed this offseason, Paul Lo Duca, is one of those suckers. Lo Duca has a variety of accusations against him, as well as handwritten notes that say everything short of “Dear Steroid Seller, Thanks for selling me the steroids that I am injecting as I write this in order to enhance my performance at playing baseball, XOXO Paul Lo Duca, the catcher currently on the Los Angeles Dodgers.” Despite the evidence against him, Lo Duca hasn’t actually tested positive for anything, so the first offense 50 game ban is unlikely. If I interpreted Olney correctly, the punishment will be according to what was punishment at the time. In 2004, the first offense was a suspension of 15 games not 50 games. Apparently what is going to happen is the league will call in these guys and have a little chat with them. This happened to a few players recently, before the Mitchell report came out, with various results. Jay Gibbons and Jose Guillen each got suspended 15 games for their involvement in the purchasing and use of HGH. Meanwhile Troy Glaus, Scott Schoeneweis, Rick Ankiel and Gary Matthews, Jr. were not punished. Apparently there was insufficient evidence to suspend them. With Lo Duca, the receipts and love letters seem to be enough to suspend him for something. If they do end up going through with this, I’d see at least the 15 game suspension that Gibbons and Guillen each got. But it could be more, perhaps even 30 games.

So, it’s possible that for the first month of the season, the Nationals are without their starting catcher. What if the suspension is 30 or even 50 games? This may give them the impetus they need to go out and sign another veteran catcher to a one year deal. This wouldn’t be a terrible idea, remember Jesus Flores is thought to be the future of the position in DC, but he had to be on the major league roster in 2007 because he was a rule 5 pick. Spending 2008 in the minors would probably be good for him to get his bat major league ready.

So then the question remains, who can be had, that can actually play for a month full time if needed? Or maybe as the platoon hitter against righties, were Flores has really struggled. Well here is the list from

Sandy Alomar, Jr
Paul Bako
Rod Barajas
Kevin Cash
Mike DiFelice
Sal Fasano
Mike Lieberthal
Mike Matheny
Damien Miller
Doug Mirabelli
Josh Paul
Kelley Stinnet

So, first let’s eliminate anyone who really can’t hit. Alomar, Bako, Cash, DiFelice, Fasano, Stinnett, Paul, and Matheny all have career OPS marks under .700, or haven’t hit over that in at least 5 years. Bako actually hits lefty, but poorly enough that he isn’t an attractive platoon guy. The other sub-.700 guys are equally unimpressive against righties. That leaves Barajas, Mirabelli, Miller, and Lieberthal. Mirabelli hasn’t hit well in 2 seasons, and as a catcher, that may be enough of a trend to avoid him. Plus, if Wakefield pitches again, the Red Sox will overpay him anyway. Barajas has a career OBP of .288, and 21 of his 63 career HRs have been at the hitters paradise in Arlington, TX. So chances are he isn’t going to have enough power to swallow his terrible rates of getting on base. Neither can hit righties better than lefties, so they don’t help with the platoon.

That leaves Miller and Lieberthal. They are interesting cases. Both are good hitting catchers coming off one poor season. Lieberthal barely played, while Miller had just under 200 ABs. Lieberthal is more adversely affected facing righties, but he has hit so well that his numbers against them still just beat out Miller, who for his career barely notices which arm the pitcher uses. Lieberthal’s career splits are an impressive .274/.337/.446, while Miller’s is .262/.329/.411. Other than last year and 2001, Lieberthal has had an OPS over .750 every year since 1999. Miller’s done that once after 2002. Either one is a decent choice in a backup backstop role and can probably hold down the fort for a month or so if necessary. Miller is older, and Lieberthal is probably the better choice, but also most likely comes with a higher price tag. Hopefully, Major League Baseball makes their moves quickly enough that the Nationals know what moves they need to make before everyone is gone.

By Charlie