Soriano, Nationals Are Still Waiting

Alfonso Soriano, left, is caught stealing in the sixth inning at second base by the Dodgers' Cesar Izturis, who later had the game-winning hit in the eighth.
Alfonso Soriano, left, is caught stealing in the sixth inning at second base by the Dodgers' Cesar Izturis, who later had the game-winning hit in the eighth. (By Ric Francis -- Associated Press)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 31, 2006

LOS ANGELES, July 30 -- When the Washington Nationals' bus pulled out of the lot just beyond center field Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, Alfonso Soriano was on it, headed to the airport. On the same bus sat Jim Bowden, the team's general manager, carrying not just his luggage, but the future of Soriano and the rest of the franchise in his hands.

For the first time Sunday, Soriano -- the focus of speculation, rumor, innuendo and everything in between in the month leading up to Monday's trade deadline -- looked as if the ordeal was affecting him. In the course of a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he went 0 for 4, struck out twice, was thrown out stealing and nearly misplayed a ball in left.

"I try not to worry about it," he said. "But now, I get close, and I see all the time my name in the news, I get a little worried."

He must worry, one way or the other, for only one more day. As the 4 p.m. Eastern time deadline approached, the ever-evolving list of suitors continued to include Houston, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Angels -- the last of which has long been considered the best fit. Yet there were signs that other, new teams -- perhaps feeling the Nationals have to deal Soriano, lest they risk losing him to free agency -- were entering the fray.

Among those latecomers were, of all teams, the Florida Marlins, the club with the lowest payroll in baseball, one that was 6 1/2 games out of the lead in the National League wild-card race. The Marlins, however, are flush with prospects, and if other deals fall through, they could be standing there, at the last minute, as a fallback, willing to part with right-handers Yusmeiro Petit and left-handers Renyel Pinto and Jason Vargas.

None of those count among the Marlins' best young prospects, but Florida's entry came as, some sources believed, other teams were joining in what could be a frantic finish. Bowden was asked Sunday if there was a chance he would make no trades. "Yeah, sure," he said, but he added, "That's unlikely."

Pitcher Livan Hernandez is being targeted by the New York Mets, but to this point, the Nationals won't pick up any of his $7 million salary in 2007. Right-handers Tony Armas Jr. and Ramon Ortiz -- who pitched into the seventh inning for the sixth time in his last seven starts Sunday -- are other prime candidates to be moved.

"You've got so many teams in the pennant race in so many divisions," Bowden said. "Everybody's playing, and everybody has a pecking order of priorities that they want. And until their priorities are done, they don't go to Plan B, C and D until they know Plan A is out of the way. What that causes is a potential[ly] active Monday."

Bowden remains adamant that the Nationals won't lower their asking price for Soriano.

"It hasn't been met yet," Bowden said. "If it had been, we would have tried to make a trade. We haven't had anybody make a deal that we liked."

Though Bowden continues to target the best young players in the system of each potential partner, there are some who believe the Nationals won't get what they're asking for. An official of one team that recently dropped out of the running said, "They may have priced themselves out on this one." Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire said that while Minnesota still considers itself a contender for Soriano, it might cost too much.

"They are looking for high-priced prospects," Gardenhire told reporters. "I mean, they're looking for a lot. . . . You're going to have to come up with a very good package."


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