- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO — With the clock ticking down, speculation running rampant and the entire baseball world waiting to see what the Washington Nationals would do, general manager Jim Bowden pulled off the biggest shocker of all — he did nothing.

Unwilling to give up Alfonso Soriano for anything less than the hefty asking price he set weeks ago, Bowden elected to keep the dynamic left fielder and attempt to sign him to a long-term contract extension.

“We felt the best deal we could make was no deal for this franchise,” Bowden said shortly after the 4 p.m. trade deadline passed.

Not that the Nationals didn’t try to make something happen during a frantic final day of discussions. Bowden said he spoke with “at least 20 teams” yesterday alone but was not satisfied with any offer made for a player who entered last night’s game against the San Francisco Giants with 32 homers, 26 stolen bases and a growing reputation as the most beloved member of Washington’s roster.

Soriano’s teammates made that much clear yesterday when they greeted him with a standing ovation and gifts as he walked into the visitors clubhouse at AT&T; Park. Grinning from ear-to-ear, Soriano expressed relief about the day’s news and the end of weeks of speculation he was heading elsewhere.

“Pretty exciting,” he said standing in front of a locker filled with champagne, tequila, a fruit basket and signs declaring “Vive Soriano!” “I think a lot of people in here love me, and I love my teammates too. I’m so happy that I can stay here.”

Only 24 hours before, Soriano appeared to be a lock to get traded to one of several interested pennant-contending clubs. But Bowden had been saying for weeks he wouldn’t lower his asking price as the deadline approached, and he stayed true to his word. The Nationals believed Soriano was worth two or three top-tier prospects, and no club was willing to meet those demands.

At least a half-dozen serious bidders emerged, according to baseball sources, including the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Angels in particular were involved right down to the wire, offering shortstop Erick Aybar, pitcher Jose Arrendondo and either outfielder Reggie Willits or Tommy Murphy. But the Nationals were adamant that any package include left-hander Joe Saunders or 19-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart, a native of Williamsport, Md., whom some in the organization believe could be better than current young Angels starter Ervin Santana.

Another hang-up, according to baseball sources, was Washington’s unwillingness to grant potential trade partners a 72-hour window to negotiate a long-term contract with Soriano. Teams might have been less reluctant to part with upper-echelon prospects if they knew Soriano would be more than a two-month rental.

Several creative proposals emerged during the final 24 hours, as well, including an attempt by the Florida Marlins to acquire Soriano and then immediately trade him to Detroit for prospects.

“The whole process was very fluid,” Bowden said. “The teams were changing. The players involved in trades were changing. But at the end of the day, it was a very simple decision for all of us: Keeping Alfonso Soriano was the best thing for the Washington Nationals and the city of Washington.”

For now, Washington only knows it’s keeping Soriano for the next two months. He’s due to become a free agent after that, and given the mammoth season he’s having and a weak free agent class, he easily will command a deal in the neighborhood of five years and upward of $65 million.

“It would be nice to have a long term [contract] and be a part of this group,” Soriano said.

Team president Stan Kasten has spoken several times with Soriano and agent Diego Bentz over the last month, but it’s not believed salary numbers have been exchanged. Another sticking point could be Soriano’s desire to receive a no-trade clause in any long-term deal, something Kasten has never agreed to in previous negotiations.

That said, the Nationals have said they would prefer to re-sign Soriano instead of accepting two draft picks if he winds up signing elsewhere.

“Today, we’ve taken a step toward that goal,” Kasten said. “But there are other steps that need to be taken by the other side at some point. Not today. Not next week. We’ll try, and if it doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. That door certainly is wide open.”

Bentz did not return messages left for him last night.

There’s no urgency, though, to work out a deal right now, and neither Soriano nor the Nationals sounded particularly worried about it yesterday. Soriano was too busy accepting congratulations from teammates and others for simply being in manager Frank Robinson’s starting lineup for another night.

“He’s meant so much to our team,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “I hope he’s not just here for the rest of the season. I hope they can work out something to get him under contract.”

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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