Soriano, Nats at impasse over outfield

Soriano, Nats at impasse over outfield

VIERA, Fla. -- Alfonso Soriano, a second baseman by trade who the Nationals had hoped to convert into a left fielder, informed the club Monday that he will not play outfield. The team told him that he could be placed on the disqualified list if he failed to do so.

"If he refuses to play and he goes home, and the Commissioner accepts our request to place [him] on the disqualified list, he would not become a free agent," general manager Jim Bowden said.

Soriano, who played most of March representing the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, was set to hit leadoff and play the outfield for the Nationals against the Dodgers on Monday night. But when the players took the field, only eight ran to their positions.

Manager Frank Robinson then went to home plate umpire Mike Estabrook and told him that a lineup change was going to be made. Brandon Watson, who was supposed to sit out the game, went to center field, while Ryan Church switched from center to left field.

"I was ready to warm up, but no one was out there. The next thing I see is Watty [Watson] running out there. I figured it would happen," Church said.

Soriano declined several times to make a comment and left the stadium by the second inning. Soriano's agent, Diego Bentz, also was not available for comment.

During the game, Bowden indicated that Soriano will be given a second chance to play the outfield on Wednesday afternoon against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. If Soriano refuses to play the outfield that day, Bowden said the team most likely will put him on the disqualified list without pay.

"He made it pretty clear that he was not going to play," Bowden said. "We hope that when he reflects on it, we hope that he changes his mind and plays left field."

Soriano arrived at Space Coast Stadium around 1 p.m. ET on Monday and had a meeting with Robinson a few minutes later, according to multiple sources. Robinson informed his new player that Jose Vidro was the starting second baseman and that the team's best chance to win was to have Soriano in the outfield.

But Soriano, who has been adamant since camp opened that he didn't want to play the outfield, reiterated his stance on Monday. He said that he wasn't mentally prepared to play the outfield.

After batting practice ended around 4:30 p.m., Soriano had a second meeting with Robinson, this time with Bowden in attendance. Bowden told Soriano that he could be put on the disqualified list, meaning that he will not get paid and lose service time.

According to one source familiar with the meeting, Soriano asked Bowden the same question he asked Robinson a few hours earlier: "Why didn't you try to talk to me before you made the trade?" Like Robinson before him, Bowden informed Soriano that the Rangers would not allow the Nationals to talk to him until everyone in the trade took their physicals.

Soriano was acquired from the Rangers on Dec. 7 for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and right-hander Armando Galarraga. The trade didn't become official until Dec. 13 because Wilkerson went on a trip to the Bahamas.

Soriano responded by saying, "[Not granting permission] should have told you something."

Soriano then asked Bowden to trade him, but the GM said the club would not give him away and the trade offers the team has received were not favorable for the Nationals. Soriano and Bentz have been given permission from the Nationals to seek a trade.

"We explained to him that we have not had a trade proposal from any team in baseball that we should consider," Bowden said. "Therefore we will look at every alternative. We have compassion for his position on where he's coming from, but we have a job to try to win baseball games.

"We told him that we needed the player. We need him to play left field, that Jose Vidro was at second base. For our team, it gives us the best chance to win. We believe it's the club's right based on the basic agreement, based on his contract. The player needs to play the position that the manager wants to put him in to win."

Soriano then told Robinson and Bowden that he was the loser in the scenario and that he was going to look like the bad guy.

"I feel sorry for [Soriano]. He's really a good kid. He's very respectful," said one person in the Nationals organization.

After the meeting, Soriano was seen sitting near the clubhouse talking to someone on his cell phone. It lasted about 30 minutes. He then went in the clubhouse to eat dinner. Before he put food on his plate, Soriano was asked twice by the media if he was going to play. After the second time, he asked, "What time is the game?"

"6:05," said a media member.

"Wait until six o'clock and find out," Soriano said.

Soriano was a no show, which didn't surprise Robinson.

"I had a pretty good idea [that he wouldn't play]. I have no reaction. I changed the lineup and that was it," the skipper said. "The next step is to write his name in the lineup for Wednesday's game and see if he will show up in Jupiter. I don't feel betrayed in this situation. He is not the first player to say he wasn't going to change positions."

Nationals shortstop Royce Clayton is one player who can relate to what Soriano is going through. After the 2000 season, the Rangers wanted to Clayton to move to second base because they were on the verge of signing free agent Alex Rodriguez. But Clayton declined and was traded to the White Sox. Unlike Soriano and the Nationals, Clayton and the Rangers were on good terms.

"I totally understand where [Soriano] is coming from," Clayton said. "Every situation is different. Mine was extremely different from his. I think he has to make that decision for himself."

Mike Stanton played with Soriano for parts of four years when both were with the Yankees. And Stanton said the Soriano controversy is not a distraction to the club.

"We all have a job to do and we all have to kind of make sure that we get our work in and get ready for the season," Stanton said. "It's an unfortunate situation, but I don't think it has anything to do with us

"He's not a bad kid. He's quiet, plays hard. This just a situation between him and organization."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.