- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2006

Alfonso Soriano agreed to an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Chicago Cubs yesterday, making the former Washington Nationals slugger one of baseball’s richest players while leaving his old club with less compensation than it had hoped to receive for the free agent outfielder.

The deal, which is contingent upon Soriano passing a physical but was confirmed last night by baseball sources, will be the fifth largest ever. It sent shock waves around the sport and was deemed “outrageous” by one high-ranking club official.

Soriano, who hit .277 with 46 homers, 95 RBI, 41 stolen bases and 22 outfield assists during his one season with the Nationals, will make an average of $17 million a season through 2014. Washington never came close to matching the Cubs’ offer.

Nationals president Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden met with Soriano and agent Diego Bentz shortly after the season but held only preliminary discussions during which they are believed to have made an offer of about $70 million over five seasons.

Bentz told Kasten and Bowden he would get back to them down the road, but club officials privately knew there was almost no chance Soriano would be back for a second season in Washington. They simply weren’t willing to get into a bidding war with the Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels and other big-market teams in the running for the 30-year-old outfielder.

The total value of Soriano’s new deal has been surpassed by only four others: Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $252 million), Derek Jeter (10 years, $189 million), Manny Ramirez (eight years, $160 million) and Todd Helton (11 years, $141.5 million).

“We would have liked to have been able to sign Alfonso, but obviously the years and dollars he got we could not get to,” Bowden said. “We just felt it was better for our organization to utilize those dollars in other ways to make us a winner.”

Kasten and Bowden said repeatedly they would be content accepting two draft picks (a first-rounder and a “sandwich” pick between the first and second rounds) as compensation for losing Soriano, a “Type A” free agent. However, because the Cubs had one of the game’s 15 worst records this season, they are not required to give up their first-round choice (No. 3 overall). The Nationals still will receive the sandwich pick (likely No. 31 overall) but now will get Chicago’s second-round pick instead.

Even so, Kasten defended his decision not to deal Soriano at July’s trade deadline and said the two lesser draft picks the club now receives are adequate compensation.

“Absolutely,” he said. “There was, in retrospect, not a thing to do differently.”

Neither Soriano nor Bentz returned messages last night.

Soriano’s brief time in Washington will be remembered for both his prodigious offensive production and the controversy that surrounded the Dominican slugger from the day he was acquired from the Texas Rangers for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and Armando Galarraga.

Soriano, a second baseman throughout the first five seasons of his career, spent the entire offseason and most of spring training refusing to acquiesce to the Nationals’ desire to move him to left field. He agreed to the switch only after club officials threatened to place him on the disqualified list and strip him of his $10 million salary and ability to become a free agent.

But once he finally embraced his new position, Soriano went on to post huge numbers while playing far better defense than anyone expected. He wound up becoming the first player to hit 40 homers, steal 40 bases and hit 40 doubles and also wound up leading the majors in outfield assists.

The Nationals made some attempts to lock him up to a long-term contract during the season but entered the July trading period intent on dealing him to a contender for prospects. Bowden and Kasten held discussions right down to the July 31 deadline but ultimately insisted they did not receive an offer better than the draft picks they knew they would get if Soriano left via free agency.

Now that he’s gone, Washington must find a new left fielder — and a productive bat — to take his place. Bowden and Kasten have said they do not intend to pursue big-name free agents this winter, so they likely will replace Soriano with an in-house candidate. Third-year outfielder Ryan Church and top minor league prospect Kory Casto will be among those in the mix.

In Chicago, Soriano could find himself trying to learn a new position again. The Cubs may ask him to play center field while batting atop a lineup that already boasts power hitters Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

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