LOS ANGELES -- The Washington Nationals' "Road Trip of Change" kicked off last night with the trade of an established veteran for a young prospect.
Just not the trade everyone has been waiting for.
While Alfonso Soriano remained in the Nationals' starting lineup for at least another day, veteran reliever Mike Stanton was dealt to the San Francisco Giants for 19-year-old pitcher Shairon Martis.
Hardly a blockbuster move less than 72 hours from baseball's trade deadline, it was nonetheless the kind of deal Washington general manager Jim Bowden has been promising for weeks: a veteran player for a younger one.
"I think it's safe to say that any time we have an opportunity to improve our chances of winning in the long haul for Washington, we'll probably go forward on those type of deals, especially when it comes to pitching," Bowden said before the Nationals faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of a nine-game road trip. "Anything that we think is going to help us in the long term, we're going to go in that direction."
The expected trade of Soriano to one of a half-dozen or so contenders would seem to fall under that category as well.
No deal was consummated as of game time last night, but Bowden spent the day holed up in his Pasadena hotel room with nearly his entire corps of advisers: assistant GMs Mike Rizzo, Tony Siegle and Bob Boone, special assistant Jose Rijo and assistant scouting director Brian Parker. New team president Stan Kasten was also in town yesterday, and members of the Lerner family will be present this weekend as well.
Bowden, according to baseball sources, has not softened his asking price for Soriano: two top-tier prospects, plus another young player. To date, no opposing GMs have been willing to meet his lofty demands, though another significant baseball trade yesterday could help strengthen Bowden's case.
The Milwaukee Brewers sent outfielder Carlos Lee to the Texas Rangers for outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix plus reliever Francisco Cordero. That's three young major league players in exchange for a slugging outfielder due to become a free agent in two months.
Bowden wouldn't comment yesterday on the trickle-down effect of the Lee trade, but it shouldn't be difficult for him to argue that Soriano should command an even higher price.
Just as he has done every day for the last two weeks, Soriano tried his best to ignore the rumors and keep his mind focused on baseball. His performance on the field suggests he has had no trouble doing that.
Entering last night's game the Nationals leadoff man was hitting .422 with five homers, seven RBI and 14 runs scored in 12 games since the All-Star break, when the trade rumors really started heating up.
"He's been unbelievable," manager Frank Robinson said. "I don't think any of [Soriano's teammates] have been through what he's going through right now. I don't know how many more could do it. I don't know if anyone could handle it any better."
While Soriano remains the primary trade target throughout the sport, there are several less prominent Nationals who could be traded by Monday. Right-handers Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas (last night's starter) are all available. Bench players Daryle Ward and Robert Fick could become valuable pieces for a pennant contender.
The Giants certainly believe Stanton will make some difference in the wide-open National League West race after acquiring him yesterday.
The 39-year-old left-hander was 3-5 with a 4.47 ERA in 56 games with Washington this season. He has made 53 postseason appearances for four different teams over 11 years. And he was a positive influence for some of the Nationals' younger relievers.
But this is precisely the kind of trade Washington is looking to make right now, so when San Francisco offered up the 19-year-old Martis, Bowden jumped on it.
The native of Curacao wasn't listed among the Giants' top-tier prospects, but he has begun to make a name for himself this season. The right-hander went 6-4 with a 3.64 ERA in 15 starts for Class A Augusta of the South Atlantic League and drew the attention of the Nationals for his performance in the Arizona Fall League and the World Baseball Classic (where he threw a seven-inning no-hitter for the Netherlands against Panama).
"We think he has a high ceiling," Bowden said. "It's a building-for-the-future deal."
The Stanton trade doesn't do much to help the Nationals in the present. It leaves them with only one left-hander in the bullpen, Micah Bowie, and leaves them without a single reliever with more than three years of major-league experience.
To help fill the void, the team purchased the contract of right-hander Travis Hughes from Class AAA New Orleans. Hughes, 28, appeared in 14 games for Washington last season and had posted a 2.48 ERA in 46 games with New Orleans this season. He was due to arrive in Los Angeles last night.
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