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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)

However, Bowden said, "At this point we have not been given a trade proposal that makes any sense for the Nationals."

Like the Nationals, Soriano has been careful about his public comments regarding the standoff. However, near the start of the WBC, he was quoted in a story on ESPN.com as saying: "They never even talked to me; they just made the trade and announced I am moving. Am I embarrassed? Yes. They tried to corner me. Now when I come back, how can I learn to play the position in a week or 10 days?"

Put in His Position

In some parts of the Nationals organization, the Dec. 7 trade for Soriano is viewed as a mistake, one that -- barring another trade -- appears to be heading toward a confrontation with Soriano, whose $10 million salary makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

Bowden and the rest of the Nationals' contingent were aware of rumors that Soriano had resisted overtures about moving to the outfield at times earlier in his career. But Bowden felt the Nationals would be able to convince him to accept it in the interest of doing what's best for the team.

"We understood there was a risk that he might refuse to play the outfield," Bowden said. "But Frank had told us a story about when [in 1959 while Robinson was playing for the Cincinnati Reds] he had to change positions. . . . And we also said, 'You know, there's still questions on Vidro's knee.' And when we weighed all the information, we thought it was in our best interests to take the risk and try to convince [Soriano] to play the outfield."

Robinson, who was in the Nationals' suite and participated in discussions as the trade was being considered, declined to answer questions about those discussions. One person who participated in the dialogue regarding the proposed trade said Robinson gave the trade his blessing. Another said Robinson liked the trade on its surface, but expressed concern over making the deal without speaking to Soriano first.

At one point, according to a person with firsthand knowledge of the internal discussions, Bowden told Robinson, "You can handle it."

Robinson did his best to handle it, once the trade was done. On Feb. 23, the day Soriano reported to camp, team officials held a two-hour meeting with him and his agent at a Perkins restaurant in Viera. Robinson did the majority of the talking, according to multiple participants at the meeting. Later that morning, Robinson met alone with Soriano in his office.

In the following days, both Robinson and Soriano said they had formed a bond of mutual respect, but there was no progress toward a resolution. For the entire time Soriano was in the Nationals' camp, he worked out as a second baseman -- often alongside Vidro -- except for occasionally shagging fly balls in the outfield near the end of batting practice.

It is doubtful the view of home plate from out there would seem familiar to Soriano, whose outfield experience consists of five exhibition games there as a 23-year-old trying to break into the New York Yankees' lineup in spring training 2001. Until that point, Soriano had spent his professional career as a shortstop, viewing his position as a matter of pride -- particularly since his home town of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., was known for producing dozens of big league shortstops.

In the spring of 2001, Soriano clearly had arrived as a prospect. But the Yankees already had a superstar shortstop, Derek Jeter, who had just signed a 10-year, $189 million contract. Still, when Jeter suffered a strained groin that spring, Soriano filled in and went on a tear -- so much so that when Jeter returned a few weeks later, the team was determined to find Soriano a place to play.

That place was left field.


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