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Soriano's Refusal Could Be 'Landmark Case'

Will Alfonso Soriano report to left field for the Nats today? If not, the team might put him on the
Will Alfonso Soriano report to left field for the Nats today? If not, the team might put him on the "disqualified list." (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

The Angels, who desperately want a middle-of-the-order bat, have the prospects to trade for Soriano, and their second baseman, Adam Kennedy, is a free agent after this season. But if Soriano plays this season, he also becomes a free agent, so there's no guarantee he would re-sign with the Angels.

Soriano's impending free agency could be a determining factor in the continuing conflict, and it's a point the union may argue if the Nationals put Soriano on the disqualified list. The Nationals and Major League Baseball officials believe that a player on the disqualified list doesn't accrue service time. Soriano has almost 5 1/2 years of major league service time, and must get to six years to become a free agent. If he were to remain on the disqualified list, management argues, he would not have his six years, and therefore would not become a free agent at the end of 2006. Instead, he would remain Nationals property.

Baseball's collective bargaining agreement, however, doesn't explicitly state that players on the disqualified list don't accrue service time, and the union, should it get involved, might argue that Soriano should earn credit for his time even if he ends up on the list.

Gene Orza, the chief operating officer for the MLBPA, did not return phone calls Tuesday. But Jeffrey Kessler, an experienced sports labor attorney who argued the case of former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens for the NFL players' union, said Tuesday the MLBPA could potentially argue that the punishment for Soriano -- being put on the disqualified list and potentially losing his $10 million salary -- was "excessive, that it didn't fit" Soriano's transgression.

"The union would try to show that the club didn't have 'just cause,' " Kessler said.

Other labor experts, though, cited the unprecedented nature of Soriano's actions. "In an industrial setting, they'd use the term 'insubordination,' " said Quinn Mills, a professor at the Harvard Business School.

Should the Nationals and Soriano come to such a moment, the case would likely be heard by an arbitrator. Gould, the former NLRB chair, said unless Soriano had a provision in his contract that he must be a second baseman -- a provision that Soriano's contract doesn't contain -- he wouldn't bet against the club in such a case.

"I think it's likely an arbitrator would find that the player's argument would lack merit," Gould said. "The basic thing that a team expects from a player is team play. A club must have some measure of flexibility to make decisions on assigning players to positions. If not, how do we have team sports?"

Nationals Note: The club announced that former major leaguers Dante Bichette, Darnell Coles and Keith Moreland have been hired as roving hitting instructors for the minor leagues. The three will take over the job that last year was manned by Mitchell Page, who is now the Nationals' hitting coach.

Staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.

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