The Nationals traded for four-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Alfonso Soriano on Dec. 7, 2005 in an effort to inject a star corner outfielder into a roster desperate for talent.
However, there was only one problem: Soriano didn’t want to play in the outfield.
On the day he was traded, ESPN noted that the longtime second baseman had been “reluctant in the past to switch positions.” That proved to be the case in Washington as well. The Nationals already had All-Star Jose Vidro entrenched at second, so they asked Soriano to move over to left field.
For what was supposed to be his Nationals spring training debut, Soriano refused to take the field and prompted then-general manager Jim Bowden to consider placing him on the disqualified list. He relented two days later, before going on to have a historic 46-home run, 41-stolen base season in his one year with Washington before signing a $136,000,000 deal with the Chicago Cubs.
But months before Soriano began his standoff with the Nationals, Bowden was working on a contingency plan: Sammy Sosa.
Sosa, a main subject in the ESPN documentary “Long Gone Summer” that premiered Sunday night, was in the twilight of his career and coming off a disappointing 2005 season with the Baltimore Orioles in which he hit .221 with 14 home runs in 102 games. At 37 years old, he was looking for a team that would allow him to continue his quest of climbing the all-time home run leaderboard.
In January of 2006, ESPN Deportes reported that the Nationals were in “preliminary discussions” with Sosa over terms of a one-year deal to play in Washington. According to the Associated Press, the Nationals offered Sosa a “non-guaranteed, incentive-laden major league contract” in February after originally proposing a minor-league deal.
However, Sosa—known to be a proud figure—declined the offer and instead opted to sit out the 2006 season. The Society for American Baseball Research found that Washington’s offer was the only one Sosa received that winter, despite being just one season removed from hitting 35 home runs in his final year with the Cubs.
It wouldn’t be the end for the Dominican slugger, though. He made his return to baseball in 2007 and hit 21 home runs to eclipse the 600 mark and finish with 609 for his career—which at the time ranked fifth in the history of the sport. Sosa would’ve been a first-ballot Hall of Famer if not for being accused of using performance enhancing drugs.
He didn’t end up in D.C., which may have ended up costing the Nationals. Outside of Soriano, no other outfielder played more than 78 games for them in 2006. They finished 71-91 and fifth in the NL East while ranking 23rd among major-league teams in scoring and 20th in home runs. Home attendance also dropped by nearly 600,000 compared to 2005.
It was a disappointing year for the Nationals, saved only by the excitement Soriano and Nick Johnson brought to the plate and promise Ryan Zimmerman showed. Sosa could’ve hit his 600th career home run in D.C. and provided a distraction from the poor display of baseball that was happening on the field. Instead, he took the year off in the Dominican Republic while the Nationals began their descent to the basement of the major-league standings.
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