Nats' Kasten Denies Credibility of Soriano Report

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2006

DETROIT, Oct. 11 -- Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten said yesterday that he didn't give credence to a wire report saying left fielder Alfonso Soriano, a free agent to be, turned down a five-year, $70 million offer to stay in Washington.

"I do not believe the report," Kasten said by phone.

Kasten, as is his policy, would neither confirm nor deny whether any offer had been made. Rather, Kasten -- who demands that his employees remain quiet about negotiations, which he considers private -- was upset that the Dominican newspaper Listin Diario quoted Jose Rijo, a special assistant to Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden, on the matter.

The Associated Press subsequently picked up the newspaper report, in which Rijo was quoted as saying, "It's almost impossible this great player will stay on our payroll."

Kasten said club officials talked to Rijo, and that Rijo denied any of the information -- including the quotes -- came from him. Rijo did not return calls seeking comment.

"He denies that there is any substance to the report," Kasten said. "We have talked to him, and he denies saying any of it, any of the quotes that were attributed to him."

Both Soriano and his agent, Diego Bentz, declined to comment on negotiations when reached yesterday by phone. Bowden did not return messages.

Washington's negotiations with Soriano were to be conducted by Kasten, and it's likely only a few select insiders -- perhaps just Kasten, Bowden and members of the ownership group led by Theodore N. Lerner -- will be privy to information on them.

Soriano, who this year became the fourth player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season, can file for free agency in the 15-day period immediately following the World Series. Until then, only the Nationals can negotiate with him.

Because he is coming off such a dynamic year, he is expected to be one of the most coveted players on the market. One baseball source, commenting on the market in general, not on any offer from Washington, said that five years and $70 million was a "reasonable starting point" for negotiations, but he expected Bentz and Soriano to try to drive the market higher by getting teams to bid off each other.

Meantime, the Nationals' search for a manager continues. There remain four openings for managers -- Washington, San Francisco, Texas and the Chicago Cubs -- and none appear particularly close to making a hire. The Nationals have spoken to an array of candidates, highlighted by former Marlins manager Joe Girardi and former Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella, though Piniella took himself out of the running this week.

Former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Atlanta hitting coach Terry Pendleton, Houston bench coach Cecil Cooper, Chicago White Sox third base coach Joey Cora and New York Yankees first base coach Tony Pe├▒a are among the other candidates, though it's possible the list is longer.

Kasten, as he did when Manager Frank Robinson was let go, warned that talks with candidates don't mean a move is imminent.

"We're learning a lot," Kasten said. "We're having many, many different and good conversations. But as I said, it could be a lengthy process. We want to have the time to look at many possible alternatives."

Kasten reiterated that he would like to have a new manager hired by baseball's winter meetings, which begin Dec. 4.

"Could it be sooner? Absolutely," he said. "But don't expect it to be."

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