- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

The Washington Nationals were blissfully free of prima donnas in 2005. Why are they after Sammy Sosa? No one else is, and that says a lot about the team’s thinking in the Hot Stove League.

The answer is that Sosa is a cheap gamble and the Nats are a cheap team, at least until an owner is chosen. The all-but-disgraced right-fielder at the center of the steroid controversy can be had for a non-guaranteed contract with a minimal salary and a raft of incentives after an abysmal 2005 season. If the club dislikes his spring-training performance, he gets cut and that’s the end of it. If he’s got anything left, maybe he’ll hit some homers. And he’s not Rafael Palmeiro.

If it seems not quite fair to call the Nats “cheap,” then perhaps it’s more to the point to call them rudderless. They traded away fan favorite Brad Wilkerson, the promising Terrmel Sledge and untested prospect Armando Galarraga for star Texas Rangers second-baseman Alfonso Soriano, who seems unhappy to be here. Soriano’s best use might be trade bait for a starting pitcher. We don’t blame Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden; he doesn’t have much to work with. His picks last year helped a budget ballclub play .500 ball in a tough division, which earns him at least a little benefit of the doubt.

But Sammy Sosa? Ask Chicago Cubs fans, who don’t recall the slugger who vied with Mark McGwire for Roger Maris’ home-run crown. Instead, they remember disappointment. For Chicago, Sosa is a great slugger turned whiny. He got caught with a corked bat in 2003 and missed his final game in uniform. He is said to be a drain on the clubhouse. Even the hapless and bust-prone Baltimore Orioles see nothing to salvage from the nearly $18 million they gave him last year for a .221 batting average, 14 home runs and steroid accusations.

Barring an epiphany, about the only hope for Sosa is tough love. Manager Frank Robinson, a legend of a disciplinarian, runs a tight ship with presumably little room for the old Sammy Sosa. If Sosa has changed his ways — on and off the field — only the Nationals’ corner offices have seen the new Sammy Sosa.

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