- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The Washington Nationals made their big move yesterday — they called up right-handed pitcher Ryan Wagner from the New Orleans Zephyrs.

That’s a deal ESPN missed in its wire-to-wire trade deadline coverage yesterday, but it is the sort of under-the-radar move that, well, certainly pleases the Wagner family.

And he surely was glad to see Alfonso Soriano in a Nationals uniform when he arrived. After all, Wagner had just left a Class AAA lineup behind. How much fun would it be to pitch for another one when you get called up to the major league club?

No, the fun times will continue in the last-place Nationals clubhouse and at RFK Stadium, where pretty much everyone will be glad to see Soriano the rest of the season.

And now that Soriano has not been traded, it’s up to the front office and the new owners of the franchise to sign him to a long-term deal.

“When you don’t do a deal like this, I think your intention is you’re hoping you’re able to sign him,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “Our organization, led by [Nationals president Stan Kasten], has been involved in negotiations. And we’ll continue to discuss. You never know how it’s going to end up, but it’s certainly clear that Alfonso wants to be here.”

Wagner, despite the 6.11 ERA he posted last year with the Cincinnati Reds, may have a better chance of being in a Nationals uniform next year than Soriano. At the very least, the chances appear to be slim-to-none that Soriano will sign a long-term contract with Washington before testing the free agent market. He should be the biggest prize, and he likely will receive some pressure from the players union to go out and establish the top price on the market.

And then there is Diego Bentz, Soriano’s agent, who doesn’t play for the Nationals and gets no particular benefit from having his client settle for less than he might get on the open market, maybe as much as five years and $75 million.

Though Soriano has said there is no lingering bitterness about the battle he had with the club over the switch from second base to left field, it proved to be a major embarrassment for Bentz. And even if the presence of Bowden, who engineered the move, is diffused somewhat by Kasten, who figures to be a big part of any negotiations, let’s remember Kasten told USA Today last year that sports would be better off without agents.

He was quoted as saying salaries have gotten out of control “largely due to the pushing and prodding of agents. We all need to look for other ways to resolve issues.” This is the same man who declared he doesn’t do no-trade clauses, which Soriano has said would be an important part of any long-term contract he signs.

But by all means, fans should click their heels when Soriano comes to the plate at RFK and chant, “There’s no place like Washington. There’s no place like Washington.”

Maybe it will help when, after the season, Soriano starts hearing the voices of Angels owner Arte Moreno and one of Bentz’s other clients, Vladimir Guerrero, chanting, “There’s no place like Los Angeles of Anaheim.”

Wherever that is.

None of this necessarily means Bowden was wrong not to trade Soriano if he didn’t think he was getting enough value. If you are willing to be patient, you usually have a better chance of success with the draft choices you get when a free agent departs than you do when you trade for someone else’s prospects. Most of the time, teams don’t trade their “can’t miss” guys. You are getting someone that another team picked, developed and nurtured yet is willing to part with. The odds are against you.

If Soriano leaves as a free agent, the Nationals get either two first-round draft picks or a first- and second-round selection as compensation. This way, your scouts and player personnel people make the decision instead of another organization’s.

The drawback is it may take five years to reap the rewards of those draft picks, and the Nationals are looking to compete when the new ballpark opens. Supposedly, that is not five years from now but 2008. To do that, Kasten is going to have to talk to a lot of agents and, despite all the sermons about player development, take a pretty big dip into the free agent pool. Right now this team does not have a single starting pitcher, in Washington or down on the farm, who can be counted on for 2008.

Unless, of course, Ryan Wagner turns out to be the move everyone should have been paying attention to.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the https://www.washingtontimes.com/sports>Sports Page

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