- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

The Washington Nationals filled one of their few remaining roster holes yesterday, coming to terms with free agent catcher Gary Bennett on a one-year, $750,000 contract.

Bennett, a career .247 hitter during nine major league seasons, will serve as Brian Schneider’s primary backup in Washington, a position that opened up last month when the club released veteran Einar Diaz.

“We needed a backup catcher, and we needed a catcher than can handle a pitching staff well,” Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden said. “Someone who knows how to catch and throw, call a good game and someone who can continue to help Brian Schneider in his development.”

Known more for his work with the glove than the bat, Bennett hit .224 with three home runs and 20 RBI in 75 games with the Brewers last season. Milwaukee attempted to outright the 32-year-old to the minor leagues last month, but he refused the assignment and became a free agent.

Bennett has bounced around the majors since debuting with the Phillies in 1995. He also has spent time with the Mets, Rockies, Padres and Brewers, who last year signed him to a one-year, $600,000 contract.

A right-handed hitter, Bennett has 14 career homers, 128 RBI and a .310 on-base percentage. He threw out 25 percent of base-stealers in 2004 (well below Schneider’s 50 percent rate) but is particularly adept at framing strikes and blocking pitches in the dirt.

Bennett is the fifth player Bowden has acquired since being hired Nov.2, all of them position players. In the last four weeks, the Nationals have signed free agent third baseman Vinny Castilla and shortstop Cristian Guzman and traded for outfielders Jose Guillen and J.J. Davis.

Bowden now will turn his attention to improving his pitching staff. Washington is in search of veteran arms for both its starting rotation and bullpen, but the market for pitchers has been slow to develop.

The big-name free agents are expected to begin negotiating with clubs during next weekend’s winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif. The Nationals, though, aren’t likely to be in the running for those top-tier pitchers. The more reasonably priced arms Bowden is targeting probably won’t start signing until late-December or January.

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