WASHINGTON -- Before all the hoopla about Stephen Strasburg being shut down for the season, the last controversy involving a significant Nationals player centered on Alfonso Soriano.
Before acquiring his services during the 2005 offseason, Soriano was one of the best slugging second basemen in baseball. But after Soriano joined the Nationals, then-general manager Jim Bowden decided that Soriano was better suited as a left fielder. The Nationals already had a second baseman in Jose Vidro.
The standoff between Soriano and the club reached the point where Soriano refused to play the outfield against the Dodgers in March 2006. If Soriano decided not to play the outfield during the season, Bowden said the club would request Major League Baseball place Soriano on the disqualified list for not rendering his services to the club. It meant that Soriano would not earn his $10 million salary and lose service time.
Soriano ended up being the everyday left fielder and had one of his best seasons, hitting .277 with 46 home runs, 95 RBIs and 119 runs scored, while leading the team in outfield assists.
In retrospect, Soriano feels great making the position switch. He continues to learn more about the position on a regular basis. He said he works regularly with Cubs outfield/ first-base coach Dave McKay and feels that he is a totally different outfielder than he was in 2006.
"I didn't see myself as an outfielder, but I'm working hard to get better every day," Soriano said. "I feel more comfortable every day."
In Soriano's only year in Washington, the Nationals finished fifth, going 71-91. Soriano has kept his eye on the Nationals and feels they can go far in the postseason. He also is happy for third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the only member of the 2006 Nationals who is still with the team.
"It's a totally different team. They are in first place right now. They have a very good team," Soriano said. "They have a good starting rotation, bullpen. They have a good offense and defense. I think they have a very good chance this year because they have a good team.
"I'm happy for Ryan and the city, too. I played here in 2006, but I'm happy more for Zim because he is a great guy, has very good talent in baseball. I was a teammate of his. He is now a contender. He has a chance to win everything, so I'm happy for him."