Soriano, Nats Appear Headed for Second Go-Round

The Nats are fielding all options with regard to Alfonso Soriano, including the
The Nats are fielding all options with regard to Alfonso Soriano, including the "disqualified" list if he refuses to play. (By Ted S. Warren -- Associated Press)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 20, 2006

SAN DIEGO -- When second baseman Alfonso Soriano departed the Washington Nationals' spring training camp on March 2 to join the Dominican Republic team for the World Baseball Classic, he left with a seven-word message that was less a threat than a statement of optimism: "They have three weeks to fix it." On Saturday, after his team was eliminated in the WBC semifinals, Soriano walked out of Petco Park to begin the journey back to Viera, Fla., and if he did not know already, he will find out when he arrives: The Nationals did not fix it.

Soriano's return to the Nationals' camp, expected to be as early as Monday, will refocus attention on the divisive, perplexing issue that has dominated the team's spring, even in Soriano's absence: how to resolve the matter of Soriano's refusal to accept the proposed switch from second base to left field. It is an issue for which there is no easy fix.

More so than when Soriano departed, there is now a sense that the dispute will be settled by the means all parties had hoped to avoid: with the Nationals, who have explored trade possibilities to no avail, insisting firmly that Soriano must play left field, and with Soriano deciding upon the critical next move.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Soriano said as he left Saturday. "I have to go back to Florida and see."

The Nationals' immediate plan upon Soriano's return is for Manager Frank Robinson -- who, despite the unease, formed a bond with the player before the WBC began -- sitting down for a one-on-one conversation with Soriano, in which Robinson plans to reiterate the team's plan for him to play the outfield.

"I think that [reiteration] has to be part of the conversation," Robinson said.

Behind his designer sunglasses, Soriano's eyes on Saturday betrayed worry, as even his 2 1/2 -week respite from the Nationals' mess stripped away another piece of the identity he had built for himself during a five-year major league career.

He began the tournament as the Dominicans' starting second baseman, but after struggling at the plate and in the field during the first three games of the WBC, he was benched for the remainder of the tournament. In the ninth inning against Cuba on Saturday, he struck out as a pinch hitter to send the team packing.

Before Dec. 7, Soriano's position in the game had been secure: He was the Texas Rangers' second baseman, a three-time all-star and one of the most revered players in his country. But on that day, the Rangers traded him to the Nationals for outfielder Brad Wilkerson and two other players, and his professional life seemingly has yet to recover.

Traded to a new league, Soriano goes from an extreme hitter's park (Ameriquest Field) to an extreme pitcher's park (RFK Stadium) and is being asked to change positions in his final year before reaching free agency. The benching during the WBC was only the latest indignity.

In addition to asking how the messy situation will be resolved, people inside and outside the Nationals' organization have asked how it could have been allowed to happen in the first place, when Soriano's resistance to moving to the outfield was well known around the game.

A Trade Minus the Talk

On the afternoon of Dec. 7, as baseball's annual winter meetings were winding down in Dallas, the Nationals were itching to make a big move. Flush with cash from their new, expanded payroll budget, the team's brain trust had made unsuccessful runs at a couple of high-priced pitchers, but on the last full day of the meetings, they were considering a proposal for what would be a blockbuster trade.

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