Inactivity at the trading deadline will cost the Washington Nationals
The July 31 non-waiver trading deadline came and went in Major League Baseball on Monday, and despite a flurry of rumors and possible scenarios, Washington Nationals All-Star second baseman-turned-outfielder Alfonso Soriano, one of the market's hottest commodities, was not one to don a new uniform. While some may applaud this action (or lack thereof) on the part of Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden, it was an imprudent decision that will hinder the future of this organization. No matter how you slice it, trading Soriano in exchange for younger, cheaper, prospects was in the best interest of the club, and the Nationals struck out by not dealing him.
Even the most optimistic fans cannot argue that the Nationals are in a rebuilding phase. The team's priority should be in restocking a farm system depleted by years of shortsighted deals and mismanagement that resulted in the debacle known as the Montreal Expos. This franchise was given a second chance with a new name and a new home, but has yet to succeed in ending the tradition of futility. The best teams flourish from the inside out, and the Nationals cannot possibly contend for the World Series without growing their own players. The organization traded two young fan favorites for what essentially may turn out to be a one-year rental of Soriano, a free-agent-to-be after this season. While big spending contenders may afford to do so, the Nationals in their current, struggling state cannot.
It may appear that keeping Soriano means that he will indeed re-sign long-term with the team he has announced he enjoys playing for. But realistically, the chances of Soriano re-upping with Washington are meager at best. He and his agent, Diego Bentz, have publicly stated that they will unconditionally test the free-agent market this offseason. With new owner Ted Lerner's unproven pocketbook and belief in building through the farm system, how can the Nationals compete with the likes of Steinbrenner (New York Yankees), McCourt (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Henry (Boston Red Sox), whose owners fancy the services of the talented Soriano and possess bottomless pocketbooks to entice him? Alfonso Soriano knows that the Nationals franchise is a significant work in progress. Right now, he wants to get paid and he wants to win. The Nats seem to be unable to provide him either. At 30 years old, Soriano is reaching his baseball prime, when his power reaches its zenith and his legs have yet to succumb to time. It would be a shame to waste such a talent like his on such a mediocre ballclub.
Do not let his monstrous production and cheerful demeanor fool you. Have this season's 32 homers made an entire fan base forget his fickle nature? Today, he is seen for his boyish smile and potent bat. However, prior to the season, Soriano was known better for his exorbitant demands and refusal to change positions. Instead of being praised for his clubhouse leadership and production at the plate, he was lambasted left and right for his selfish stubbornness and prima donna attitude. Only the threat of deactivation was finally able to put him on the field. Having played for contenders in the past, he is used to winning and will tire of the losing ways in store for the Nationals in the near future even if he re-signs. When that day comes, prepare for a public tirade and a trade demand.
This year was without a doubt a seller's market. Teams with the slightest chance at a playoff run were willing to mortgage their futures for a shot in the tight pennant races, dangling big time prospects for a proven name. With the Nationals all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff hunt, the best move would have been to shut it down and look to the future. Other teams in similar situations – the Cubs, Pirates, Royals, Indians, Brewers and even the Phillies – dealt away established players for younger prospects. If decent names were traded for lesser outfielders like Carlos Lee, Bobby Abreu and Craig Wilson, imagine what could have been obtained for Soriano. He is young, blessed with great power and speed and boasts proven playoff experience. With demand sky high and multiple teams drooling over his talent, Soriano could have netted multiple top-level prospects. Now the only compensation Washington may receive for the Soriano experiment is a crapshoot draft pick and a sympathetic nod from observers as he walks away.
Some may see this as a symbol of the organization's commitment to competitiveness and desire to build a winning team. The fans may respond well to this now, but a few years down the road, when the losses do not subside and players that could have been acquired flourish elsewhere, their mood will sour. A small gesture today is not worth the future that has been thrown away. Soriano may be a favorite for now and a clubhouse leader, but fans and players must understand that baseball is a ruthless business.
Would Soriano be missed? Absolutely. He has an amazing talent and is a tremendous asset to the team. Based on the situation at hand, however, he had to go. Without a Machiavellian approach to management, Washington may never see the glories of victory.
History may one day vindicate Jim Bowden's decision to keep Alfonso Soriano. If he is indeed re-signed to a long-term extension and leads this downtrodden franchise to respectability in a demanding National League, this decision will be looked upon as a turning point for the Washington Nationals organization. But until we see that day, the Nats will continue to be in the same place they have been with or without Soriano: in the bowels of the NL East, looking up.
Andrew Kung. Andrew Kung is a rising Magnet junior who is psyched for a year of Chips Online. He has lived in New York, Michigan, and New Mexico prior to his current residence in Maryland. As a cynical sports fan, he is not often disappointed, but not … More »