ALFONSO SORIANO: NO LASTING LEGACY IN D.C.
Nah, just kidding. It is a big deal. A single to left, a bobbled fastball, and -- just like that -- Alfonso Soriano was holding second base high over his head, joining Jose Conseco, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds as select members of the "40-40" club.
Soriano is the first "normal" member of the group. Jose Conseco took steroids and bounced home runs off his head in his spare time. Barry Bonds took steroids and has a slew of home run records, none of which carry any weight these days. And Alex Rodriguez, well, he's a liar. Remember, he said that if he left Seattle after his free-agent season, it would have nothing to do with money. $252 million dollars later ....
A week ago, I would have been excited for Soriano. He had showed himself to be a decent guy, a decent outfielder, and -- thus far -- a man of his word. So when Jim Bowden and the Nationals weren't able to pull the trigger on a deal that would have sent Soriano packing this summer, I was quietly confident that it was best for the team. I believed what the man said, that he loved playing in Washington, that he'd give the team the right of first refusal on any contract he might sign, and that he saw a bright future for both he and the Nationals. When he said "I no want to leave Washington," I believed him.
In the last week, however, things have changed. Soriano's words, once crystal clear, are now becoming hopelessly vague. No longer does he want to sign with the Nationals. Now, he hopes that something can be worked out, if the team proves to Soriano that they are getting better, if the team continues to build the minor league system, if the new stadium is up to his standards, if ... if ... if ...
If Soriano does what he seems to be doing; that is, to renege on all those "feel good" promises made before the trading deadline, he may find that trying to secure a few extra bags of gold can cause very bad things to happen. Very bad. Alex Rodriguez was the most-liked player in the American League when he played for the Mariners, getting regular ovations from fans when he played on the road. During that final season in Seattle, he told anyone who would listen that money would play no real determining factor regarding where he'd sign in 2001. And the people of Seattle believed him. He was, after all, Alex Rodriguez. Then came the bombshell: Rodriguez signed a 10 year, $252 million dollar contract with the Texas Rangers. Wearing the Rangers' jersey over his Armani suit, he said that he signed with Texas because they offered him the best opportunity to win a world championship.
Talk about insulting your fan's intelligence.
From that moment on, Rodriguez, one of the nicest guys to ever play baseball, became public enemy #1. In his first year in Texas, he had one of his best seasons, batting .318-52-135, yet he was booed both at home and on the road. Half the fans booed because of the shear size of his contract, and the other half booed because of the way he turned his back on the city of Seattle. Today, six years into that contract, he is still in the cross-hairs of most fans, especially in New York.
Do you think Alfonso Soriano would learn from the mistakes of Alex Rodriguez? Oh no; not a chance. He is making it clear now -- kind of setting the stage -- that his loyalty to Washington is predicated on his getting exactly what he wants, with the knowledge that the team can't possibly provide what he'll demand. The bidding will start at $15 million per year, and will go up from there. Gone is the "home town discount." Gone is the "right of first refusal." All that's left are the two extra picks in the amateur draft, and even those are questionable until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
Although I've never believed that Soriano is worth that type of contract, I was willing to, as a fan, incur the extra costs of signing him to a long-term deal. If he was to show loyalty to us, then we'd need to reciprocate. I don't want Jim Bowden to re-sign him any more. I'd much rather have the draft choices. Why? Glad you asked:
1) Adrian Beltre Syndrome. After five decidedly slightly-above-average seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Beltre had a monster "money" year in 2004, batting .334-48-121. That got him a huge deal with the Mariners, where he promptly reverted to his slightly-above-average status, maybe even a little less-than-average. Now, the Mariners are stuck with both him and his contract for many years to come. Soriano had five good years in the majors before this season. Yes, he hit a good many home runs, and yes, he drove in a good number of runs, that's all true. But he also had a career on-base percent of .320 and a strikeout ratio much to high for a leadoff batter. And unlike both Rodriguez and Beltre, Soriano is a poor fielder. Why pay $15 + million per year to someone who is probably going to revert back to old habits once the check clears?
2) Other Team Needs Take Priority: Re-signing Soriano isn't the only team priority this off-season. The Nats could use three new starting pitchers. By letting Soriano walk, the Nationals would get the aforementioned two extra draft-picks and the opportunity to sign other players who could help the team. Need a slugger? Carlos Lee is available. In fact, That $15 million could buy Lee and a solid starting pitcher. The club has made it clear that Ryan Church isn't the answer in center, but he could very well be the answer in left -- he's proven that if left alone, he could easily put together a .285-25-90 type season for the Nationals.
By not signing Soriano, the Nationals would have a myriad of ways to improve the team for 2007. The team will probably have the #5 or #6 pick in the draft, plus the two for losing Soriano, plus picks (granted, in the lower rounds) for the loss of Pedro Astacio, Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr., players the team has no desire to re-sign anyway.
The time has come to accept the fact that "Mr. 40-40" will be plying his trade elsewhere in 2007. Don't cry -- rejoice! I have no doubt that Soriano will return to his old ways and will once again perform at a level far below his asking price. There are too many "above-average" pitchers available this winter to be spending all that money on a star -- but not a superstar -- outfielder.
Congratulations, Alfonso. We're happy for you. But we'd be happier if you hadn't gone back on your promises to the fans of the Washington Nationals.