The Best Trade That Never Happened

By Carla Peay
Updated: August 9, 2006

Washington Nationals All-Star Alfonso Soriano

Washington Nationals All-Star Alfonso Soriano

WASHINGTON — The RFK faithful cheered when Alfonso Soriano sprinted out to left field on Tuesday night when the Washington Nationals faced the visiting Florida Marlins. When the team left town to begin a nine-game road trip on July 28, it seemed likely that the hometown crowd might never see him again in a Nationals uniform.

But sometimes the best trades are the ones that never happen. After weeks of speculation that the all-star left fielder would be dealt to whatever team met general manager Jim Bowden’s price, no deal was made after all.

Alfonso Soriano remained a National.

In the top of the first inning, Soriano threw out Marlins center-fielder Alfredo Amezaga, aboard on an error, when he tried to move to third on a single by second baseman Dan Uggla. Soriano gunned him down at third with a strike to Ryan Zimmerman to pick up his league leading 18th outfield assist.

The fans responded to the play with a loud ovation, and Soriano waved to the crowd in appreciation. When he came to the plate to lead off the bottom of the first, the ovation continued, with many fans standing and cheering the return of the superstar they almost lost. Their reaction wasn’t lost on Soriano.

“I’m enjoying my time here in D.C.,” said Soriano after the game, which the Nationals lost by a score of 4-2. “I love the fans and I think they love me. It’s very good to stay here and play for those fans”.

“Before I left (for the road trip) a lot of people said to me please don’t leave, so I think they’re very happy when they see me here. There’s nothing more important for me.”

Despite going one-for-three and not having his usual stellar night on the base paths (Soriano was caught stealing and picked-off first base on the evening), he’s likely to become a 30-30 man this season (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases).

His current stats – 35 home runs and 28 stolen bases – with 50 games remaining, make it possible that he might even reach the 40-40 mark.

Nationals fan and transplanted New Yorker Darren Powell is very pleased that Soriano is still in town. “They shouldn’t have traded him”, Powell added.

“He’s the superstar of the team. You can’t give away the heart of your team, especially when you’ve got a new team and a new stadium on the way. You’ve got to have something to bring the fans in, and Soriano is the man.”

Known for being a tireless worker, Soriano has made the adjustment well from second base to the outfield. A gifted player who combines power and speed, a lot of teams in the playoff chase could have used Soriano’s bat in their lineup.

Meanwhile, the last place Nationals, with a banged up pitching staff and a bereft farm system, seemed likely to deal Soriano, possibly for a starting pitcher, or two to three top flight prospects. Soriano becomes a free agent at the end of the season and the team’s desire and ability to re-sign him is unknown at this time.

“I think they didn’t trade him because they weren’t offered a spectacular one-sided deal,” said Phil Wood, a well-known baseball historian and columnist for the D.C. Examiner.

“A lot of people thought he was the best player available and no one offered half their starting lineup for him, so I think it came down to does he mean more to this club here in this town at this point in time than three prospects would? I think the conclusion was, yes”.

“I think the Lerner’s and Stan Kasten came to look at this guy as the face of the franchise, a guy who could, at 30 years of age and just entering his prime could probably put together five consecutive seasons”.

“He has great work habits, his teammates love him, so I think it’s a plus that he wasn’t dealt. If he re-signs, he could be the cornerstone of this franchise, and he’ll still be productive when this team is contending.”

Before the July 31st trading deadline, several Nationals players expressed the desire for the team to keep Soriano in the fold. When the deadline passed and he was not traded, his teammates decorated his locker, and greeted him by chanting his name and clapping when he entered the clubhouse.

“It’s great. With him at the top of our lineup, we’ve got him and Lopez now, our lineup’s pretty good,” said 3rd baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “Just having him in the clubhouse, his attitude, his enthusiasm all the time makes us a better team”.

“We’re all very happy that they kept him and we think it was the right decision. We think it will be good for the team in the long run, maybe better than getting two or three good prospects”.

“If you’re going to build around someone, you might as well build around him. He’s probably one of the better players in the whole game.”

Soriano has expressed the desire to stay in Washington, but also stated a preference not to negotiate during the season, preferring to concentrate on playing baseball.

The sticking point in re-signing Soriano to a long term deal may not be financial, but whether or not the team will accommodate Soriano’s desire to have a no-trade clause in his contract.

Team president Stan Kasten has not offered players no-trade contracts in his previous dealings, so it’s not clear whether Soriano will re-sign without one, or if the team will consider offering him a no-trade, or limited no-trade clause to keep him here.

One thing is clear. On warm August evening, with their team in last place, Nationals fans still have a reason to come to the ballpark and to stand and cheer.

His name is Alfonso Soriano.