- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sammy Sosa turned down the Washington Nationals’ final contract offer yesterday, ending the club’s pursuit of the aging slugger and leaving his baseball future in doubt.

The Nationals had offered Sosa a nonguaranteed major league contract with a $500,000 base salary and considerable incentives. But Sosa’s agent, Adam Katz, was seeking some amount of guaranteed money for his client, who made $17 million a year ago with the Baltimore Orioles.

Washington general manager Jim Bowden wasn’t willing to up his offer and yesterday was informed Sosa officially declined.

“He’s rejected our offer,” Bowden said. “We respect what he’s done on the field, but now we’re going to close the book and go forward.”

Thus ended the Nationals’ month-long pursuit of Sosa, who is fifth on baseball’s all-time home-run list but has seen his career spiral downward over the last two years.

Bowden held several face-to-face meetings with Katz, including a last-ditch get-together Saturday night in Los Angeles. At that meeting, Bowden informed Katz the Nationals needed an answer by the end of the week. Pitchers and catchers report Saturday for spring training in Viera, Fla., and Bowden did not want the distraction of ongoing Sosa negotiations.

The Nationals were willing to take an inexpensive gamble on Sosa, 37, hoping the former Chicago Cubs slugger could regain his lost power and enjoy a comeback season. Even with him out of the picture, the club’s outfield situation remains muddled going into camp.

Jose Guillen will be the right fielder, though he’s not expected back from left shoulder surgery until mid-March at the earliest. Alfonso Soriano is the projected left fielder, though Bowden and manager Frank Robinson still have to persuade him to make the move from second base. The center field job will open for competition between Ryan Church, Brandon Watson and Marlon Byrd.

“Our interest in Sammy was as insurance on Jose Guillen’s shoulder and Alfonso Soriano’s reluctance to move to the outfield,” Bowden said. “But we feel we have enough depth there. Sammy was just kind of a unique opportunity.”

Sosa faces an uncertain future. He has no known offers from any other major league clubs, and Katz told the Associated Press that Sosa is strongly considering retirement.

“It’s more than likely we have seen him in a uniform for the last time,” Katz told the AP. “It wasn’t about the money, and it wasn’t about No. 600. It was a function of Sammy’s expectation of his own performance. He didn’t want to go out there and underperform like he did last year because it was just too painful for him, and it’s just something he doesn’t want to go through again.”

If Sosa retires, he will end his career with 588 home runs, 1,575 RBI and a .274 average over 17 seasons. He struggled last year with the Orioles, hitting just .221 with 14 homers and 45 RBI while battling injuries.

Note — The Nationals signed outfielder Ruben Mateo, left-hander Joe Horgan and right-hander Saul Rivera to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training. Horgan and Mateo both have major league experience (Horgan with Washington last year). The moves give the Nationals 61 players on their spring-training roster two days before camp opens.

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