Paul Lo Duca and the Washington Nationals agreed to a 1-year contract pending a physical, according to several reports yesterday.

Lo Duca, a free-agent catcher who played for the New York Mets the past two seasons, would give the Nationals a veteran to replace Brian Schneider behind the plate. Washington traded Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church to the Mets last month in the deal that sent outfielder Lastings Milledge to the Nationals.

A four-time All-Star from 2003 to '06, Lo Duca hit .272 with nine homers and a .311 on-base percentage this season that was the lowest of any Mets regular - and lower than Schneider's .326. Both Lo Duca and Schneider drove in 54 runs.

Neither Nationals general manager Jim Bowden nor Lo Duca's agent responded to requests for comment.

The agreement was first reported on the Washington Post Web site, citing an unidentified source; and also said Lo Duca and the Nationals have a deal in place.


* It's easy to predict much of what George Mitchell will say: Baseball ignored performance-enhancing drugs for more than a decade, and his investigation repeatedly was slowed by the players union.

The names Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi are sure to be included in the report, which could be released Thursday, from Mitchell's 20-month probe of steroid use in baseball.

Mitchell's big news is likely to be what additional names are linked to allegations of drug possession and use, and details documenting the accusations that he's gathered. That baseball had a culture in which the use of performance-enhancing drugs was permitted is not groundbreaking.

* The players association filed a grievance to overturn the 15-day suspension given to Royals outfielder Jose Guillen for violating baseball's drug program.

* Randy Wolf will earn $9 million if he can make 30 starts and pitch 200 innings for the Padres. Wolf, who was 9-6 with a 4.23 ERA in 18 starts with the Dodgers last season, is coming off shoulder surgery.

* Eric Gagne is getting another chance to be a closer. Gagne and the Brewers finalized a $10 million, 1-year contract, giving the Brewers a potential replacement for All-Star reliever Francisco Cordero, who agreed to a $46 million, 4-year contract with Cincinnati after saving 44 games for Milwaukee this season. *