The Washington Nationals won their arbitration case against Alfonso Soriano yesterday, meaning they will have to pay the newly acquired slugger $10 million this season instead of the $12 million he was seeking.
The three-person arbitration panel of Richard Bloch, Elizabeth Neumeier and Elliott Shriftman, who heard the case Thursday in St. Petersburg, Fla., ruled yesterday in favor of the Nationals.
Even in defeat, Soriano earned the largest salary awarded to an arbitration-eligible player, shattering the previous record of $8.2 million given to Atlanta Braves outfielder Andruw Jones in 2001. Soriano also receives a $2.5 million raise from his 2005 salary with the Texas Rangers and immediately becomes the Nationals’ highest-paid player.
“We respect the arbitrators’ decision,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “We feel that it’s a good salary for the team and a good salary for the player given his talents.”
Now both sides can turn their attention to the more-pressing, on-field issue surrounding Soriano: what position he’s going to play.
Bowden said he spoke several times with Soriano over the last few days about the club’s plan to move him from second base to the outfield. Soriano remains hesitant to make the position switch, but the talks have been cordial to date.
Soriano is due to report to spring training in Viera, Fla., with the rest of the Nationals’ position players Feb. 23, at which time he will meet with manager Frank Robinson to talk about his role with the club.
“He clearly knows that our position is that Jose Vidro is going to be our starting second baseman, and he understands we’d like him to move to the outfield,” Bowden said. “We also understand where he’s coming from, what his feelings are. We’re going to continue to have dialogue with him. But we’ve got to make decisions that are in the best interests of our baseball team, and that’s what we’ll do at the end of the day.”
With Soriano’s arbitration case resolved, the Nationals now have 22 players signed for the upcoming season for a combined $58.425 million. The remaining roster members will agree to contracts at or slightly above the major league minimum of $327,000, which will leave the club’s payroll at around $60 million.
Bowden said that’s where his league-mandated payroll will remain and that any more signings from here on would be for minimal money.
That includes free agent outfielder Sammy Sosa, who has been given a standing offer for a nonguaranteed, major league contract by the Nationals but has yet to make a decision. Bowden said he will be meet with Adam Katz, Sosa’s lead agent, tonight and will emphasize that the club needs an answer from the slugger as soon as possible.
“This is not something I want dragging on once our pitchers and catchers report [one week from today],” Bowden said. “I don’t want any distractions. We’re either going to be able to sign him before then, or we won’t and we’ll go forward. We’re hoping Sammy considers signing with us. If he doesn’t, then we’ll turn the page and go forward.”
Notes — Right-hander Darrell Rasner was claimed off waivers yesterday by the New York Yankees. Rasner, who made five appearances (one start) for Washington in September, had to be designated for assignment earlier this week to make room on the 40-man roster for free agent signing Matt LeCroy. …
The Nationals signed outfielder Kenny Kelly and right-handers Kyle Denney and Santiago Ramirez to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training. Kelly appeared in 17 games for the Nationals last season, mostly as a pinch-runner, while Denney made four starts for the Cleveland Indians in 2004.
Washington also signed right-hander Beltran Perez and infielder Melvin Dorta to minor league contracts, but neither was invited to major league camp.