By Aaron Fitt
December 8, 2005
Nationals general manager Jim Bowden finally landed the big bat he coveted, and the Rangers unloaded a big salary while adding to their outfield and minor league pitching depth. Washington acquired second baseman Alfonso Soriano for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and a player to be named, believed to be Double-A righthander Armando Galarraga.
Soriano, who will turn 30 next month, is a premium blend of power and speed. Acquired from the Yankees in the Alex Rodriguez deal before the 2004 season, Soriano posted his third career 30-homer/30-steal season in 2005, when he batted .268/.309/.512 with 36 homers and 104 RBIs.
Though Soriano’s career-high 39 homers came while playing for the Yankees in 2002, he benefited greatly from playing in hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field, posting a 1.011 on-base plus slugging percentage at home in 2005 and a .639 OPS on the road. Soriano made $7.5 million in 2005 and stands to get a bump to around $10 million next year through arbitration. The Nationals have Jose Vidro at second base and would like to move Soriano to the outfield, but they reportedly did not discuss the issue with him before making the deal. In Texas, Soriano repeatedly expressed his desire to remain at second.
Wilkerson, 28, has proven versatile in his four full major league seasons, moving from his natural left field to center field and first base when needed. He also spent large portions of the past two seasons batting leadoff, though he has little speed and is better suited to batting lower in the lineup. His best season was 2004, when he hit .255/.374/.498 with 32 homers and 67 RBIs for the Expos.
His production in 2005 was hampered by forearm and shoulder injuries, and he finished .248/.351/.405 with 11 homers and 57 RBIs, all career lows. Wilkerson draws a lot of walks and has a career .365 on-base percentage, but he has also struck out at least 147 times in each of his four seasons. He made $3.05 million last year and could get a raise to around $4 million through arbitration.
Sledge, 28, hit .269/.336/.462 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in his promising 2004 rookie year, but he played in just 20 games last year before severely injuring his hamstring in May. He has average power, speed and arm strength, and he could hold down the Rangers’ everyday left field job if they deal Kevin Mench.
Galarraga, 24, had a breakout year in 2005, going 6-8, 3.80 with 137 strikeouts and 44 walks in 156 innings between high Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. The Venezuelan showed no ill effects from his 2002 Tommy John surgery, though he did tire at the end of the season because he was not used to such a high workload. He has an electric arm and a lively 92-95 mph fastball, but his best pitch is a hard, sharp slider that he throws for strikes and uses as an out pitch. Galarraga is still working on his third pitch, a changeup, but he could be ready to fill a back-of-the-rotation starter slot or a set-up role in the Texas bullpen as soon as next season. He ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Nationals system.