After Sound, Fury, Soriano Remains a Nat

"I'm happy because the rumors are done already," said Alfonso Soriano, who batted first for the Nationals last night in San Francisco. (By Marcio Jose Sanchez -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO, July 31 -- His locker was adorned with streamers and banners and signs of affection that ranged from a bottle of premium tequila to a bowl of fruit. And when Alfonso Soriano walked into the visitors' clubhouse at AT&T Park -- still a Washington National more than two hours after Monday's trade deadline had passed-- the room exploded in applause and impromptu chants of "Sor-i-a-no! Sor-i-a-no!"

"I'm happy, because the rumors are done already," Soriano said several minutes later. "So now, it's more easy for me to focus and play every day."

For now, Soriano's wish became a reality, and the left fielder remained with the Nationals despite the overwhelming evidence that he would be traded. Of all the surprising developments on a hectic final day that ended the non-waiver trade period, perhaps the most surprising transaction was the one that didn't take place. The Nationals, faced with as many as a dozen suitors but left with no deal with which they felt comfortable, hung onto Soriano despite the fact that they desperately want to rebuild their substandard farm system -- not to mention the fact that Soriano could depart Washington in the offseason as a free agent.

"We felt the best deal that we could make was no deal for this franchise," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "We consider Alfonso one of the best players in baseball. It's a player that wants to stay in D.C., did not want to be traded. He wants to stay here long-term. . . .

"Our job is to make sure we explore every possible option to help build this team into a world championship club. It was our job to engage in trade negotiations with everybody in our organization in an effort to try to improve."

Yet on a day when several Nationals might have been traded, the makeup of the team -- one that sits in last place in the National League East -- remained exactly the same. Pitchers Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas Jr. and Ramon Ortiz also stayed with the club. Those players could still be traded, though with the deadline gone, they would have to pass through waivers -- a process in which every other team would have a chance at claiming them before a trade was made.

The centerpiece of the Nationals' trade talks, though, was Soriano. While the fact that he remained with the Nationals was an immediate positive for this clubhouse -- "I think it's a period of time now where they can exhale," Manager Frank Robinson said of his players -- it didn't do anything toward enhancing the minor league system that Bowden calls "an obsession." The Nationals, sources said, were never offered the prime prospects they sought in return.

Both Nats President Stan Kasten and Bowden said they would explore a contract extension with Soriano, who reiterated that he would like to remain in Washington. But Soriano also said he doesn't want to negotiate during the season.

"Now is the time to focus and play," he said. "There's two months left, so we got to hope this team plays better and see what happens."

Soriano, who earns $10 million this season, is likely to seek a deal worth between $12 million and $15 million annually over a four- or five-year period. Should he sign elsewhere after the season, the Nationals would receive a first-round draft pick and another choice sandwiched between the first and second rounds. Not trading Soriano was, Kasten and Bowden acknowledged, a risk.

"There's certainly nothing certain about what will happen after this year," Kasten said. "But we do love Alfonso and what he's done for our team, what he means to our team, and what he means to our fans. And if there's a way for us to keep him consistent with building a world championship, we'll do that.

"But we're always going to look at the best of our alternatives. For today, there wasn't anything that was good enough for us to trade him."

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