IT'S TIME TO SAY "SEE YA" TO SORIANO
[September 28th] -- He was magnificent for five months. He was better than magnificent. He was one of the top two players in the National League. Heading into September, Alfonso Soriano had 43 home runs and was a lock to reach 50 -- he had at least seven homers in four of the previous five months. A good September would have guaranteed him a "blank check" from a dozen teams, including the Nationals.
Many teams will still come-a-calling, but I don't think the Nationals will be one of them. At least, they shouldn't be.
Soriano is mired in his worst month of the season. He is just 22-105 with just six doubles, three home runs and eleven RBI's. He's batting only .210 with a miserable .652 OPS. Now, I know what you're thinking; anyone can have a bad month -- it doesn't mean a thing. He's going to end the season with super-star numbers. Yes, that's true. But something else has become clear: The Alfonso Soriano we've watched this month looks very much like the one we expected to see all season. Remember all those stories written by the pundits in the Nats' blog-o-sphere (including me)? He strikes out too often. He doesn't hit in the clutch. His power will be limited in the outfield expanse that is RFK. On and on it went. I predicted that Soriano would bat .265-23-88 in 2006. I was stunned at how he played throughout the summer; he seemed to be someone else entirely.
Maybe he was.
Soriano's career statistics are more similar to his September than the first five months of the year. It seems that he has reverted to those same sloppy swings that caused him to be branded "tradeable" by both the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers. He isn't "just missing," he is embarrassing himself on many of his swings. He looks lost and he is guessing at what pitch is coming his way. Some will say that he's having an "off" month, and that he's entitled. And sure, that's true. But I don't think that's what's happening. I think we're seeing the rebirth of the old Soriano.
This isn't a player who is worth $15 million dollars a year. Oh, he'll get it, though. Some team -- the Angels, the Orioles, the Cardinals -- will have both the money and the means to sign him to a five year, $75 million dollar deal with a no-trade contract, just like he wants. But if the Nationals were considering it, they shouldn't be any more.
Reason #1: Ryan Church & Jose Guillen. The Nationals outfield looks very muddled for 2007, with quality outfielders having no place to play. Ryan Church is one of them. Even with the head games heaped upon Church this year, he's still produced. Based on a 550 at-bat season, Church would have hit 25 home runs and driven in 100 RBI's while stealing 20 bases. He's a fine corner infielder but can't play there if Soriano returns. If Bowden chooses to trade Church for pitching, they team can re-sign Jose Guillen and move him to left. Either way, the Nats can fill his vacant position from within, and fill it quite nicely. No, they won't hit as well as Soriano, but either will hit "enough."
Reason #2: Pitching - Pitching - Pitching. The Nationals certainly have enough payroll dollars to sign Sorinao, but at expense of the pitching staff. The team needs at least two more solid pitchers to have any hope of being respectable next year. If Bowden can plug left field with either Church or Guillen, he could conceivably use the $15 million dollars to sign two quality starters. That would have brought guys like Paul Byrd and Jarrod Washburn to the Nats last year. No, they aren't "the answer" long term, but they don't need to be. The once barren farm system now has a half-dozen prospects who will be ready to join the starting rotation in two or three years. These guys need only be stop-gap hurlers (but good ones).
If the Nationals are going to be rebuilding, I'd much rather have two rather high draft picks than one player who may eat up 25% of the team's payroll. Even if the Nationals only use half of the savings, the team can still buy a starter and bank the rest of it for later.
I've enjoyed Alfonso Soriano's time in Washington. Brad Wilkerson wasn't the answer in the Nationals' outfield, so it's not like we lost a great talent for Soriano's one-year rental. But would you trade Wilkerson for two draft picks? I would.
And I hope the Nationals feel the same way.
Considering Wilk's injury issues and general struggles in Texas, I wonder if he won't be released by the Rangers? I could think of worse people I'd like ot see in the Nats outfield...
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