The sequence set in motion when the Nats traded their best player for a guy who played a position that they already had covered is finally coming to a head.
Alfonso Soriano refused to play the outfield for the Washington Nationals in what was supposed to be his spring training debut Monday night, and general manager Jim Bowden said his biggest offseason acquisition will go on the disqualified list if he doesn’t agree to switch positions this week .”The player refused to take the field, which we believe is a violation of his contract,” Bowden said.
Soriano, a four-time All-Star second baseman, was listed as batting leadoff and playing left field on a lineup sheet posted in the Nationals’ clubhouse before Monday night’s 11-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But when the Nationals took the field in the top of the first, Soriano wasn’t out there. With play just about ready to start, left field was empty. Confused players and fans looked toward Washington’s dugout. The only person to emerge, however, was manager Frank Robinson. He approached plate umpire Mike Estabrook and made a defensive switch, moving Ryan Church from center field to left and putting Brandon Watson in center to replace Soriano at the top of the lineup. “I was sitting out there ready to warm up, but nobody was out there, and the next thing I see Watty running out there, so I kind of figured what happened,” Church said.
The Nationals already have an All-Star second baseman in Jose Vidro, so they told Soriano they want him to move to the outfield, and he indicated he doesn’t want to do that. But Monday provided his most concrete — and visible — objection.
“I just hope they can fix the situation,” Washington outfielder Jose Guillen said. “That’s up to the people upstairs and Soriano. I think everybody’s a grown-up man here. I just hope for the best for the team and those guys, and that they can fix the situation. But that’s pretty much not my business.”
When Soriano first reported to camp last month, the question of whether he would accept the switch was left open until his return from the World Baseball Classic. Soriano played for the Dominican Republic, which was eliminated in the tournament semifinals Saturday. He joined the Nationals on Monday and worked out with teammates in the afternoon, but he wouldn’t speak to reporters. He wasn’t in the clubhouse after Monday night’s game.
“It’s a difficult situation for the organization and for him personally,” said pitcher Mike Stanton, Soriano’s teammate on the New York Yankees from 1999-02. “I don’t really think anything good can come out of this.”
The Nationals acquired Soriano from Texas in a December trade that sent outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and pitcher Armando Galarraga to the Rangers. After the deal, Washington made it clear that Vidro would keep his spot at second; Soriano made it clear that he wasn’t happy.
While one expects athletes to be “team players,” my sympathies lie with Soriano in this case. He signed a deal with the Rangers to play second base. Subsequently, the Nationals traded for him with the intention of moving him, which Soriano immediately told them he was not willing to do. The problem is not a stubborn ballplayer but a stupid GM.
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