Soriano looks forward to All-Star Game
Outfielder returns to Midsummer Classic for fifth year in a row
PITTSBURGH -- On March 20, 2006, it was hard to imagine Nationals slugger Alfonso Soriano being an All-Star outfielder. That day, Soriano, who was acquired from the Rangers for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and right-hander Andres Galarraga during the winter, declined to play his first Spring Training game for the Nationals because he still considered himself a second baseman. That job belonged to Jose Vidro.
By not taking the field, Soriano faced the possibility of being put on the disqualified list and losing $10 million in salary. Two days later, Soriano acquiesced and played his first game in left field against the Cardinals.
Even though he played the position once before -- during the 2001 exhibition season as a member of the Yankees --- Soriano didn't feel he had the skills to play the position.
As it turned out, Soriano is a solid outfielder, leading the Major Leagues with 12 outfield assists. He also is the Nationals' best hitter, leading the team in home runs, stolen bases and runs scored.
It explains why the fans voted him to be one of the starting outfielders for the National League on Tuesday night. He joins Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Robin Yount and Craig Biggio as a handful of players who were named to the All-Star team at more than one position. It's also the fifth year in a row in which Soriano will play in the Midsummer Classic. The previous four were as a second baseman. Soriano won the Ted Williams Award in 2004.
"All the controversy in Spring Training is done. I want to enjoy myself in the All-Star Game and in the second half, too," Soriano said. "[At first], I thought it was difficult to make the All-Star team because there are a lot of good players in left field. But I said, 'Let me work hard and see what happens, and I'm here today.'"
There's a possibility the Nationals will enjoy having Soriano for only a few more weeks. He has been the subject of trade rumors and the Nationals want prospects in return. Reportedly, clubs such as the Angels, Dodgers and Yankees and Tigers are interested in his services. One person in the organization didn't rule out Washington keeping Soriano and taking the first-round draft pick if he signed with another team.
There also is a possibility that Soriano could get a contract extension, but his agent Diego Bentz and Washington general manager Jim Bowden have not had serious negotiations.
Washington offered Soriano a five-year, $50-million deal, which was turned down before the season started. According to a baseball source, the Nationals are waiting for Bentz to make a counter-offer. Some in the organization believe that Bentz wants the Nationals to make a better offer than the one made before the season.
If he is not traded before the deadline, Soriano is making sure that he gets a no-trade clause in the contract. He is getting tired of hearing about himself in trade rumors.
"This is going to be my last year of this. I want to be more relaxed, have a house, my family with me. That's what every player wants, feel comfortable and stay in one city for five or six years," he said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.