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Soriano, Nats Appear Headed for Second Go-Round
The Rangers had offered Soriano, an exciting player with a rare combination of power and speed. The Rangers' asking price was outfielders Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and pitching prospect Armando Galarraga. The Nationals loved Soriano's bat, and were inclined to make the deal, but they already had an established second baseman in Jose Vidro.
Before the Nationals would give their final approval to the deal, Vice President-General Manager Jim Bowden phoned the suite of his Texas counterparts with one final request: Would the Rangers grant Bowden permission to speak to Soriano first, so that the Nationals could gauge his willingness to move to left field?
The Rangers, who had the power to grant or deny permission because Soriano was still under their control, said no, according to sources with firsthand knowledge of the request who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations were private.
"We certainly looked at [the Rangers' denial of permission] as a factor," Bowden said recently. "We took it [to mean that] if we talked to the player . . . [the Rangers felt] that the player would say no [to changing positions] and the deal would be killed."
However, as late afternoon turned to evening on Dec. 7, Bowden told the rest of the Nationals' contingent that he wanted to go ahead with the trade.
Bowden, known for both his aggressive pursuit of trades and his love of the spotlight, knew the Soriano deal would make a huge splash in Washington, where the Nationals lacked a big-time player, and around the game. After some brief discussion in the Nationals' suite, the decision was made to make the trade, even without Soriano's blessing.
That night, terms of the trade were announced -- even though it would not be made official until the players passed their physicals -- and Bowden had the dynamic, powerful player he had long coveted.
"When we were not able to sign . . . a number one or two starter, which was our preference, we still needed some offense," Bowden said recently. "We wanted to get a big bat in the middle of our lineup. And obviously, our preference was to get a center fielder or left fielder to provide that offense. But unfortunately, with trades or free agency, we couldn't do that. And the best player out there who we thought could be that player, and who we could get without giving up so much that it would hurt our club, was Soriano."
However, what Bowden may not have realized is that the Nationals, in insisting that Soriano move to the outfield, were about to dive headfirst into an electrically charged issue that Soriano's two previous franchises, the New York Yankees and the Rangers, had only skirted.
When the Nationals finally spoke to Soriano, after the trade was made official, he told them he did not want to move to left field -- a stance he maintained when he reported to camp, accompanied by his agent, on Feb. 23, and when he left a week later to play second base for the Dominican team in the WBC.
While Soriano was gone, the Nationals used his absence to evaluate the balky right knee of Vidro. Had Vidro shown signs of lingering problems with the knee, the team could have had an easy solution, with Soriano replacing Vidro at second base. However, Vidro's knee has held up remarkably well.
Bowden also explored trade possibilities during Soriano's absence, and even invited Soriano's agent, Diego Bentz, to seek deals as well.