Thursday, February 9, 2006

If free agent outfielder Sammy Sosa wants to join the Washington Nationals, he’s going to have to make up his mind pretty soon.

The club hasn’t set a strict deadline on Sosa’s decision, but it wants an answer before spring training starts. According to a team source, the Nationals are not going to let Sosa’s contract offer become a distraction and disrupt camp.

The Nationals are believed to be the only major league club to have made any kind of offer — a nonguaranteed contract with an invitation to spring training — to Sosa. Sosa and his representatives are seeking a club that will guarantee the aging slugger money.

Last season with the Baltimore Orioles, Sosa made more than $17million and hit just .221 with 14 home runs and 45 RBI in a season that included two stints on the disabled list. If Sosa decides to accept the Nationals offer, he will make a small percentage of what he did last season — but only if he makes the Opening Day roster.

From 1993 to 2004 with the Chicago Cubs, Sosa was one of the game’s premier power hitters. In a four-year stretch beginning in 1998, he hit 66, 63, 50 and 64 home runs. As recently as two years ago, Sosa hit 35 home runs. Despite last season’s dropoff, he is just 12 home runs shy of 600 for his career.

Sosa’s reputation started to unravel in 2003 when he was busted for using a corked bat and subsequently suspended. Suspicion of steroid use, coupled with his denial on Capitol Hill before a congressional subcommittee on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, further tarnished his image.

In other news, the Nationals signed veteran first baseman/ catcher Matthew LeCroy yesterday to a one-year, $850,000 deal. LeCroy, who is a .263 career hitter with 58 home runs and 209 RBI in 430 games spanning six seasons with the Minnesota Twins, batted .260 with 17 home runs and 50 RBI in 101 games last season for the Twins.

The Nationals envision LeCroy, who is considered a defensive liability, as a right-handed hitter coming off the bench who can back up at both catcher and first base.

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