On July 31, 2006, Alfonso Soriano walked into the visitors’ clubhouse in San Francisco and found his locker adorned with streamers and well-wishes. Earlier that day – the non-waiver trade deadline – it was widely assumed Soriano would be dealt to any of a dozen suitors. The Washington Nationals, who traded for him in the offseason, were securely in last place with a barren farm system.
Yet when the trade deadline came and went, Soriano remained a National.
“We felt the best deal that we could make was no deal for this franchise,” Jim Bowden, then the general manager, said at the time.
Seven years later, Soriano’s single season in Washington – in which he hit 46 homers and stole 41 bases – remains a fleeting memory. But with another non-waiver trade deadline approaching Wednesday, Soriano once again became a central figure in the wheeling and dealing. After the 2006 season, the Chicago Cubs signed Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million deal.
So Soriano’s trade late last week from the Cubs to the Yankees – for whom he made his major league debut in 1999 – served as a reminder of that time, and of the perils of the trade deadline. The Nationals were criticized for not trading Soriano that summer because he simply walked anyway at the end of the year. But in baseball’s compensation system at the time – it has since been overhauled – the Nationals received two draft picks because Soriano left. The first, sandwiched between rounds one and two, became lefty Josh Smoker, who has never played beyond high Class A. The second, in the second round, turned into right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, named to the National League all-star team earlier this month.
Now, Soriano is 37. Over the past four seasons, he has hit .252 with a .306 on-base percentage and a .472 slugging percentage. But the Yankees, trying to hang in the postseason race, were desperate for right-handed-hitting help. As a team, New York has a .594 on-base-plus-slugging percentage from the right side – last in the majors. Soriano’s .754 OPS is his lowest since 2001, his first full season in the majors, but it’s still an upgrade for the Yankees.
Will that be the most significant deal before the deadline? The Rangers already acquired Cubs right-hander Matt Garza, and the White Sox may decide to part with right-hander Jake Peavy.
Only Soriano’s trade, though, brought back memories for Nationals’ fans of a time when the team’s best players were on the block, and it was a surprise when they stayed.