By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006; 2:09 AM
LOS ANGELES, July 28 -- Alfonso Soriano showed up, put on his uniform, and started in left field Friday night. By midway through the 13-1 shellacking the Los Angeles Dodgers dealt to the Washington Nationals, he was out of the game, relaxing in the visitors' dugout at Dodger Stadium, smiling broadly as if he had not a care in the world.
Meantime, business raged on. Before the blowout -- in which right-hander Tony Armas Jr. likely diminished what trade value he had with a three-inning, six-run outing -- the Nationals began what is shaping up to be a major weekend by making a minor move, trading left-handed reliever Mike Stanton to the San Francisco Giants for a 19-year-old pitcher, a move that could portend others before Monday's trade deadline.
The trade of Stanton for right-hander Shairon Martis was a small example of what the Nationals would like to do on a larger scale -- dealing a 39-year-old veteran for a prospect that, as General Manager Jim Bowden said, "has a high ceiling." But the transaction that sent ripples through baseball -- and could have an impact on what the Nationals might receive should they, as expected, trade Soriano -- was the Milwaukee Brewers' decision to send slugging outfielder Carlos Lee to Texas for outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and reliever Francisco Cordero.
That deal was an early indication that general managers were getting serious three days before the deadline, which is 4 p.m. Monday. Just 10 minutes prior to the game, Los Angeles acquired infielder Wilson Betemit from Atlanta for infielder Willy Aybar and reliever Danys Baez.
"When you get within 72 hours, everybody who's been playing possum comes out and plays for real," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said. "The conversations today have been much more frequent and much more serious."
Because the Rangers weren't one of the teams contending for Soriano, the competition among the remaining teams for the perceived prize of the trade market could well intensify -- and even expand.
"Obviously, every deal impacts those teams' needs, and that can have a ripple with other teams," Nationals President Stan Kasten said. 'Obviously, Texas isn't in the market for what they were looking for, and Milwaukee isn't in the market for what it was looking for. But those teams were talking to other teams as well.
"There's no way to predict whether it's a positive impact or a negative impact on our discussions, but certainly, there's a ripple."
Colletti, for example, said that despite the fact the Dodgers reside in last place in the National League West, "We're still buyers," and added that he was still searching for a major offensive player. Indeed, the Dodgers were keeping in touch with the Nationals about Soriano, and Colletti indicated he is willing to go into his deep farm system to make other trades.
But so are others. The Houston Astros, for example, are aggressively pursuing offensive help and could now be players for Soriano. The Astros, who brought legendary right-hander Roger Clemens back in hopes of fueling a defense of their NL pennant, are seven games under .500, 15th in the league in runs scored and badly need a bat if they are to re-enter the wild-card race.
The potential addition of the Astros, as well as the fact that the Brewers received two established major leaguers in return for Lee -- who is a free agent at the end of the season -- could mean Bowden's decision to keep Soriano until the final days before the deadline will pay off. Soriano could be worth what Bowden is demanding -- multiple, high-end prospects or young players who have already appeared in the majors. Texas may have put more pressure on its division rivals, particularly the Los Angeles Angels.
Earlier this week, when asked if he would try to play teams off each other in an effort to drive up the market for Soriano, Bowden said, "The price is the price." Detroit, which has the best record in the majors as well as a talented farm system, is still in the running. ESPN reported Friday that Minnesota Twins was also in contention for Soriano, who went 1 for 2 before being lifted for pinch hitter Robert Fick in the fifth. Manager Frank Robinson said afterward that the move was made only because of the blowout and not because the Nationals were near a deal for Soriano.
They are unlikely to be near a deal for Armas, either. His performance, in front of several scouts, helped ensure Soriano would be lifted early. He allowed two-run homers to Andre Ethier and Cesar Izturis in an outing that matched his second-shortest of the season.
"I didn't do my job today," Armas said. "It was just a situation where I pretty much [stunk] right from the get-go."
Armas was coming off a seven-inning, three-hit performance in which he beat the Chicago Cubs, and another solid start might have increased interest from contending teams such as the New York Mets. But after Friday's debacle, he is 7-6 with a 4.79 ERA and would likely represent only a last-ditch hope for a contending team.
"It's baffling," Robinson said. "He has great stuff. You just wonder what it is that he can't just go out there and put what I call the good stuff to use."
If Armas can't be traded, it would represent an opportunity lost for the Nationals. Friday, Bowden re-emphasized that the club is seeking young players in any deal it makes, and more trades like the one that sent Stanton to San Francisco could follow.
"I think it's safe to say that any time we have an opportunity to improve our chances of winning in the long haul for Washington, we'll probably go forward on those type of deals, especially when it comes to pitching," Bowden said. "We're going to stockpile as many pitchers as possible."
Thus, the deal for Stanton, who went 3-5 with a 4.47 ERA in 56 appearances for Washington. In exchange, the Nationals received Martis, who was 6-4 with a 3.64 ERA in 15 starts for Class A Augusta. He will report to the Nationals' Class A affiliate in Savannah, Ga.
Bowden said the Nationals had been scouting Martis for some time. In March, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter for the Netherlands against Panama in the World Baseball Classic. Bowden said Nationals' scouts like Martis's breaking ball and said his fastball clocks between 91-95 mph.
"We thought he had a chance," Bowden said. "Certainly, it's down the road. It's a building-for-the-future deal."
As, it appears, they all will be.