Continued from page 1

“Who knows?” Soriano responded.

Even if he agrees to the switch once he returns from the WBC, Soriano could have less than two weeks to learn the nuances of playing left field. He has only a handful of games’ experience in the outfield in his professional career, during 2001 spring training with the New York Yankees, but team officials believe it won’t take long for him to pick it up.

The Nationals did make it clear they consider Vidro their starting second baseman, and the three-time All-Star said he can’t play any other position on the diamond.

Hampered for more than two years by patellar tendinitis in his right knee, Vidro arrived in Viera yesterday looking trim and proclaimed himself 100 percent healthy. He is determined to return to his old form and because of that announced he will not play for his native Puerto Rico in the WBC, instead devoting all his attention to preparing himself for the 2006 major league season.

“This is my job. This is what I do,” the career .302 hitter said. “I have to go out and play 150-something games for the Washington Nationals. That’s my goal. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to play there.”

Vidro, 31, admitted he was surprised by the Soriano trade and expressed sympathy for his new teammate’s refusal to change positions.

“I would have done the same thing,” he said. “I would probably try to work it out. That’s a team decision. I hope that both of us can be in the lineup at the same time. That would be great, because adding Soriano to the team is very good.”

Only if the Nationals can find a way to appease both of their All-Star second basemen before Opening Day, a process that figures to go right down to the wire and will require the club to sidestep several more land mines.

For Bowden, the risk of implosion is worth it.

“I’ll make that trade every day of my career,” he said. “This is a very special baseball player with a very special combination of speed and power. … Washington is very fortunate to have Alfonso Soriano.”