- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

LOS ANGELES — He has tried for weeks to put on a happy face and insist all the rumors surrounding his future weren’t affecting him.

But as he showered and dressed following the Washington Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday, Alfonso Soriano looked like a worn-down man. His fate still undecided on the eve of baseball’s trade deadline, the 30-year-old outfielder admitted for the first time the pressure was starting to get to him.

“I’m trying not to worry about it,” he said. “But now we get close, and all the time my name’s in the news, I get a little worried.”

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden continued to hold trade discussions with a number of teams yesterday. He expects to continue those talks right up until today’s 4 p.m. deadline, hoping one of his fellow GMs will relent and accept his hefty asking price for the slugger (which includes at least two top-tier prospects, one of them a pitcher).

“It hasn’t been met yet,” Bowden said following yesterday’s game. “If it had been, we would have tried to make a trade. We haven’t had anybody make a deal that we liked.”

Which isn’t to say a last-minute deal won’t be struck today. Baseball sources said a number of teams still remained in the running for Soriano last night, including the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Several of those teams appeared to be waiting to see how other possible trades played out before making a final offer on Soriano. The situation with Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, who is being sought by a number of teams, including the Angels and Astros, in particular has been an impediment to the completion of a Soriano deal.

“It’s been a slow process,” Bowden said. “I think there’s a lot of things at play for a lot of clubs. You’ve got so many teams in the pennant race in so many divisions. Everybody’s playing and everybody has a pecking order of priorities that they want. And until their priorities are done, they don’t go to Plan B, C and D until they know Plan A is out of the way. What that causes is a potential active Monday.”

Bowden said he expects new proposals and perhaps even new teams to emerge as the hours wind down today. He also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of no finalized trades before the deadline.

“Anything’s possible at this point,” he said. “If we haven’t made a deal, then obviously there’s nothing out there right now that we like. That may change, and that may not change.”

In the meantime, Soriano continues to hold out hope he will be in the Nationals’ lineup tonight when they face the San Francisco Giants. Washington also can hope he regains his hitting stroke if he does remain with the club.

Soriano went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts yesterday and has only one hit in his last eight at-bats, prompting some questions whether the uncertainty has finally gotten the best of him.

“He didn’t have a good game yesterday, and he didn’t have a good game today,” manager Frank Robinson said. “If you go strictly off of that, you’d have to say yes. I really don’t know. It’s hard for me to read his head.”

Soriano offered a window into his mind yesterday as he pondered the possibility of leaving a group of teammates he has grown fond of over the last four months.

“That’s going to be very tough if I find out tomorrow that I have to leave,” he said. “Because now it’s only one day. I think if they want to do something, they have to do it early, not wait up to the last moment. …

“If it is the last day, I have to enjoy it. I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can because I think those guys are very good people and very good teammates.”

As Soriano dressed following the game yesterday, fellow outfielder Ryan Church looked at him and said incredulously: “You still here?”

Soriano laughed.

“It kind of eases his tension,” catcher Brian Schneider said of the constant ribbing the star left fielder receives. “He’s not on his own. We’re here joking with him and having a good time, anything we can do to make him feel better. Because you know he’s got a lot of things going through his head right now.”

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