SORIANO IMPRESSING NATS; IS HE IMPRESSING OTHER TEAMS?
[April 22nd] -- I sat down in my official blogging chair this morning expecting to dedicate the first two paragraphs of today's story to Alfonso Soriano, that come-of-age "team player" who hit his fourth, fifth, and sixth home runs of the young season last night against John Smoltz and some guy with a long name (okay, it was Oscar Villarreal). My heart wants to tell you that Soriano "officially" became a National last night, that he thrust himself out from under Brad Wilkerson and, for the first time, Nats' fans truly understand what this guy is all about, and that Soriano, and the Nationals, and the Nationals' fans, would live happily ever after.
[insert sound of needle being dragged across a record here]
Of course, we all know that isn't true. Alfonso Soriano was traded from a team he loved, lived in a city he adored, had to listen to his new team tell him to his face why he wasn't deserving of the money he was asking, and then was threatened with suspension if he didn't move to a position he'd never played with almost no time to learn how to do it, and is playing in a home ball park that will likely reduce his home run total by 15%.
And he's in the last year of his contract.
And he said that he's going back to the American League after the end of this season.
What's there to get excited about again?
The Nationals are in quite a conundrum, thanks to GM Jim Bowden. Soriano is a hired gun, a one-year wonder, a guy who would have made a difference if his surrounding teammates were good, and needed help to become great. That's not the case in Washington. The Nationals are very below average, and Soriano's presence will only get them close (but not to) 500. At the end of the season, he's gone, off to some American League bandbox, to become part of a team willing to overlook his deficiencies [hey: I'm being polite] at second base. The only thing that will keep Soriano in Washington is a new owner [Lerner?] who is willing to pay much, much more than he's worth to stay in D.C. and play left. How much would it take? Well, he thought he was worth $12.5 million this year, so, what, $15-16 million per year? Maybe more?
The more likely scenario is that the Nationals will play well, but not well enough to make it worthwhile to keep Soriano on the payroll. At some point, probably in the midst of a mid-summer losing streak, Soriano will get traded, probably to an American League team, for prospects, buckets and buckets of prospects.
Keep him? Trade him? I say trade him.
The new owner is going to show fans that he means business, and there is no question that he's going to enter the free-agent market with a wallet full of cash. The new management will be able to replace Soriano's bat without too much trouble, and at a price far less then the team would have to pay to keep him. By trading Soriano, the Nats could in effect receive prospects and the free-agent signee. That's not such a bad deal.
Look, there is no question that Soriano is a special player, and that he would help the Nationals by staying here long-term. But he'll help the Nationals even more by going. Remember all those draft picks the Redskins received by trading the rights to Ricky Williams to New Orleans? Look how Bartolo Colon's trade to the Expos a few years back brought in return several players who today are helping Cleveland mount a serious run at the post season. This team will finish the season in fourth place in the NL East with, or without, Alfonso Soriano. If Marlon Byrd were to play left field for the rest of the year, he'd likely hit .270-12-60 or so, enough keep the team competitive.
I don't know what will happen in the comings weeks and months. I doubt if Jim Bowden would even made a trade that helps this team's future because he's trying so hard to hold on to his job today. But as fun as Alfonso Soriano is to watch, the Nats should begin looking at the "lay of the land," to see who might be in need of a very special player. I'll miss Alfonso Soriano, but a strong future is worth far more than a few isolated special nights during what surely will become a long season.
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