- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

PITTSBURGH — He arrived 18 minutes late, leaving some smart-aleck reporters to wonder whether Alfonso Soriano again was refusing to play left field (this time for the National League All-Star team).

It didn’t matter that Soriano was fashionably late for his All-Star media session. A throng of inquisitors was willing to wait him out and ask the question on everyone’s mind.

How much longer are you going to play for the Washington Nationals?

“Oh man, I don’t know,” he said. “I just go every day, day by day, and play the game. Whatever happens, happens. I don’t have control of the situation.”

Well, not totally. Soriano is a free agent at the end of the season.

But despite his recent declaration that he would like to stay in Washington, the Nationals haven’t decided whether to offer Soriano a long-term deal now, in the offseason or trade him before the July 31 deadline.

With three weeks left before the deadline, the odds of Soriano remaining with the Nationals appear to be dwindling. His agent, Diego Bentz, said yesterday he has not had any substantive contract talks with general manager Jim Bowden or incoming team president Stan Kasten.

And while Kasten has said the organization has the financial freedom to negotiate deals with players like Soriano, Bentz is under the impression talks can’t take place until the new ownership group is officially in place.

Such is the awkward position the Nationals and Soriano find themselves in. They’re stuck in a holding pattern, with little time to shift into gear and get something done.

Washington could take a chance and wait to negotiate with their star left fielder. But the Nationals would be taking a risk because if Soriano walks after the season, they would receive only a compensatory draft pick for their troubles.

“This is something that the organization is going to have to come to grips with and manage themselves,” manager Frank Robinson said last week. “[They have to] talk to his agent and get a feel for where they are and where they want to be when they sit down and sign a contract and where they want this to go: the dollars and the years, the length of the contract. If they feel like they can possibly come together and work out a deal to keep him here, there’s nothing wrong with going past the trade deadline.”

Maybe so, but anyone who gathered around Soriano yesterday at the Pittsburgh Westin was already convinced he will be wearing a new uniform come August.

“Alfonso, do you think you’ll be traded?”

“Alfonso, do want to play for a contender?”

“Alfonso, do you want to play in New York again?”

“No man, I’m fine here,” he insisted. “If they send me over there, that’s fine. But now I’m very fine in D.C. That’s my team now.”

That Soriano even found himself the center of so much attention yesterday was remarkable given his long and strange trek from All-Star second baseman for the Texas Rangers to All-Star left fielder for the Washington Nationals.

Less than four months ago, Soriano was a despised figure in Washington, having refused to take the field for a spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now he’s the Nationals’ most popular player and a National League star who received more than 2.4 million All-Star votes.

When the NL’s starting lineup is introduced tonight at PNC Park, Soriano (who is hitting .272 with 27 homers, 56 RBI and 20 stolen bases) will be first because he is the team’s leadoff hitter.

“It meant a lot to me,” Soriano said of being elected by both fans and players. “It’s my first year in left field, and there’s a lot of superstars there. And I got into the lineup. That makes myself very comfortable because now I can say I’m a very good athlete. I can play second base and be on the All-Star team in left field, too.”

Former teammates of Soriano aren’t surprised by his prodigious offensive numbers in his first season in Washington.

“Not one bit,” said Michael Young, Soriano’s former double-play partner in Texas. “I don’t care how big that ballpark is. This guy has got unbelievable power. He’s a great guy, a great player, a great teammate. I knew it would work out. I knew that he’d go out and have a great season.”

But will Soriano’s season end in a Nationals uniform? And if so, how about 2007 and beyond?

From the moment he was traded to Washington, Soriano has lamented the fact he has no control over his fate. And for the next three weeks, that remains the case.

But Soriano knows that can change when free agency begins Nov. 1. He will decide where he wants to play for the first time in his career.

“Not yet, but I think I’m very close to that point,” he said. “Now, I don’t have the control. … After this year, I think I’m going to have a lot of control: what I want to do, where I want to go and stuff like that.”

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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