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All-Star Soriano Isn't Ruling Out the Angels

July 11, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH — Alfonso Soriano, only 30 years old, is a five-time All-Star for three teams at two positions.

He never wanted to leave the New York Yankees, never wanted to leave second base, but here he is, young, capable and -- if we're to believe the bracelets, necklace and earring -- rich, and several months from playing wherever he wants.

"I'm very close to that point," he said. "Now I don't have the control. I have the control only to play the game, every day to play the game."

Depending on your preference in ballplayers, Soriano will be the free agent most capable of impacting a franchise this winter, particularly if one is in the market for a power bat to hit behind a pre-existing power bat desperate for lineup protection.

Incidentally, Vladimir Guerrero, only 30 years old, is a seven-time All-Star for two teams, at one position (though he'll start in left field tonight). He was pleased to go to Anaheim, is content in right field, and here he is, young, capable and -- if we're to believe the Angels offense -- protection poor.

Born one month and two days apart in the Dominican Republic in 1976, Soriano and Guerrero were separated by only a few minutes Monday afternoon, the American League players following the National League into a downtown hotel ballroom the day before the playing of tonight's 77th All-Star game, where the National League is working on a nine-year winless streak.

They are represented by the same man, Fern Cuza, who stood dutifully by Soriano in the first session and translated for Guerrero in the second. And they share a love for swinging hard in case they hit it, though Guerrero doesn't walk or strike out as often as Soriano, nor does he run as well. Soriano is nearly on pace for a 40-40 season in home runs and steals.

He would appear to be the answer to Bill Stoneman's general manager dreams, just as Paul Konerko was supposed to be last winter. Soriano is the big bat who would not cost Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver or Howie Kendrick, who would replace free-agent-to-be Adam Kennedy at second base or designated-hitter-to-be Garret Anderson in left field, and who some scouts believe would be better in center field than in left, which potentially solves another issue.

He came to Pittsburgh to celebrate this destination and instead found himself talking about his next one, New Yorkers sure he would like to return there, either to the Yankees or Mets. Soriano, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Lee and Oakland Athletics left-hander Barry Zito -- Zito just changed agents, from Arn Tellem to Scott Boras -- all had it like that.

"I'm just in like this big, crazy situation, and it's like this tunnel," Zito said. "I'm in this little tunnel right now, which is the season, working start to start. I can't really go down there and deal with that in my mind until I'm out of this tunnel, which is the 2006 season. I got to keep my focus there and worry about staying healthy and pitching this team back to the playoffs.

"This is my third agent change in six years, so I'm kind of an agent [collector] now. It's great, you know. I'm definitely comfortable with Scott and all the resources he brings to the table. It's strictly a baseball house, so that's good. Scott, he's a baseball guy. It's going to be exciting."

Soriano had said only last week that he had come to appreciate Washington and the Nationals, and that he had grown to like the outfield, if for no other reason than his ability to play it broadens his value as a free agent.

And he did not dismiss going to Anaheim, to the Angels, to play alongside Guerrero, on a contender.

"Who knows?" he said on his way to the door, where he passed Guerrero. "Who knows?"

Since being traded to Texas for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, Soriano has not finished higher than third in his division, and probably won't again this season, unless some general manager meets the Nationals' asking price of big league-ready prospects -- such as Santana, Weaver and/or Kendrick. Because of that, he mixed potential with trade rumors, home runs and stolen bases with trade rumors, All-Star appearances with trade rumors, and then it would happen, first packing for Texas and then Washington.

"I believe this is the last year with those," he said. "I can relax. I can have a home for my family. It's what I want."

His next contract, be it for five or six years, will contain a no-trade clause.

"Of course," he said, smiling. "No more rumors."

In the meantime, the Angels have 74 games to right themselves, to play the way they did for the last week, and to consider the in-season cost of, say, Miguel Tejada, or even Soriano. For everyone's benefit. For Guerrero's benefit.

"If the team gets somebody, that's great," Guerrero said. "If not, we're going to be OK with what we have.

"I know Soriano, I like Soriano, I have a lot of respect for him. I would love to have him in this organization. It would benefit the organization."

Asked if he would help recruit Soriano in free agency, he nodded and said, "If I run into him, of course I would."

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