By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 25, 2006; E01
Alfonso Soriano's future could lie with the team that deems him the missing piece to win the American League Central. Indications came yesterday that the Chicago White Sox have emerged as a late player in the bidding for the Washington Nationals' left fielder, a move that could steal him from another strong suitor, the rival Detroit Tigers.
Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said several times yesterday that he had not consummated a deal, and he would not comment on progress late last night. The swirl came on the same day Bowden strengthened his front office by officially naming Mike Rizzo -- formerly the scouting director of the Arizona Diamondbacks -- as assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations.
"All I can tell you is we do not have a deal in place with any team at this hour," Bowden said. He declined to comment further. But the Nationals' front office was working hard on the trade front into the night, and Bowden's chief lieutenants -- director of player personnel Bob Boone and assistant general manager Tony Siegle -- were at the general manager's side as Washington worked to drive up the price for Soriano.
"It's heating up," one front office member said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. ESPN, citing an unidentified source, reported that the Nationals and White Sox were "extremely close" to an agreement. Officials from at least one rival team, however, had not heard that as of yesterday evening.
With Monday's non-waiver trade deadline less than a week away, the frenzy around Soriano will only intensify until he is dealt. As many as eight teams have shown serious interest. Not only is he one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game -- he has 31 homers and 25 stolen bases in his first year with Washington -- but the Nationals have widely acknowledged that they are beginning a rebuilding process, and they will be sellers during this trade market. There is no more appealing commodity available than Soriano, who will be a free agent after this season but could be the difference between winning a World Series and missing the playoffs.
White Sox General Manager Ken Williams acknowledged his team's interest in Soriano over the weekend, and yesterday said Detroit's involvement in the talks -- the Tigers have been actively monitoring Soriano's progress for weeks, and have exchanged trade offers with the Nationals -- is a significant factor.
"You never know what I'm going to do, particularly since one of the teams in competition for some of the players we're looking at is Detroit," Williams told reporters yesterday in Chicago, where the White Sox began a key three-game series against the Minnesota Twins. "We'll have to see how it all plays out."
Williams, when reached by e-mail, declined to elaborate on his interest in Soriano, but it seems unlikely that the White Sox will part with one of the Nationals' top targets, 23-year-old right-hander Brandon McCarthy. The Nationals would like McCarthy, who is 6 feet 7 and is projected as a front-line starter, to be an anchor for their rotation in the future.
But Williams, speaking on XM Radio yesterday, dismissed the idea that McCarthy is headed to Washington -- or any other team.
"We are not planning on moving any of our pitchers on our major league roster for any players out there," Williams said. "I told Brandon McCarthy that directly when I got to the clubhouse. . . . Brandon McCarthy is not going anywhere. He's part of our present and he's part of our future."
One National League executive said over the weekend that Bowden -- a notorious wheeler-dealer whose cellphone voice mail currently answers, "I can't come to the phone because I'm in the middle of trying to make a deal" -- could be trying to lure division rivals into the bidding for Soriano, hoping the fear of losing a playoff berth would be enough to surrender better prospects. That suspicion first arose when the Seattle Mariners were reported to have interest in Soriano last week.
"That'd be just like him," the executive said of Bowden. Two other executives expected Bowden to try to keep the bidding open until the 11th hour in the hopes of making one team give up a prospect they were reluctant to part with.
Bowden, as he has shopped Soriano, has been aggressive in asking for top prospects in each respective suitor's system -- reportedly right-hander Philip Hughes and outfielder Jose Tabata from the New York Yankees, second baseman Howie Kendrick and right-hander Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels, and right-hander Humberto Sanchez (who was scratched from a scheduled start last night because of an elbow problem) and outfielder Cameron Maybin from the Tigers.
So if a deal with the White Sox is to get done quickly, and it doesn't involve McCarthy, it's possible the Nationals could be targeting an outfielder such as Brian Anderson -- a 24-year-old who is hitting just .205 with a .281 on-base percentage as the White Sox' regular center fielder -- to go along with a prospect, perhaps right-hander Lance Broadway, left-hander Ray Liotta (who has struggled this year), third baseman Josh Fields, or outfielder Ryan Sweeney.
Meantime, the hiring of Rizzo came just one week after he interviewed with Bowden and team president Stan Kasten in Washington. Rizzo, 45, served with the Diamondbacks for seven seasons. He is well respected in the game and was instrumental in scouting and drafting such players as right-hander Brandon Webb, third baseman Chad Tracy and last year's top pick, shortstop Justin Upton.
"Mike will be involved in all facets of the operation, from the major leagues to scouting all the way through," Bowden said. "He has a tremendous amount of talent and ability."
Rizzo will oversee Dana Brown, who remains as director of amateur scouting, as well as two positions the Nationals have not yet filled -- director of professional scouting and director of international scouting.
"We've got big plans about doing things well domestically, here in the United States, and also abroad, in Latin America . . . and Asia," Rizzo said. "There's no place too far, no travel itinerary too rough for us to go and figure out ways to put better players into our system."