Warning: Die Hard analogy. Don't say you weren't warned.
At the end of Die Hard---by which I mean the first one---John McClane steps out of the Nakatomi Tower with his no-longer-estranged wife, Holly, in tow. He trades a moment of poignant recognition with Sergeant Al Powell, McClane's confidant and pal during McClane's ordeal, in which he overcame twelve-to-one odds and a serious weapons deficit to dispose of the Eurotrash terrorists. Then he introduces Holly to Powell, who advises her to take care of McClane, because "[she's] got a good man there." And then the loudmouth boob of a deputy police chief, Dwayne T. Robinson (played by the dearly departed Paul Gleason), pops out of nowhere, and as McClane is about to pop Dwayne T. right in the jaw, everyone turns at the sound of a wail.
It's Karl, the lead Eurotrash guy's second, somehow revivified after being hanged by an improvised noose just short of the door leading to the building's roof. Hell only knows how Karl has survived (perhaps his hanging was cut short when the roof exploded, jostling him free?), but he's back for blood. Until, that is, Powell pumps him with lead. And we're back to a happy ending.
And then a strange thing happens: John McClane, his life just saved by this man mere seconds ago, merely nods and ushers Holly on their merry way (after which Holly slugs a nosy reporter and the happy couple piles into McClane's hired limo).
It's a bizarre ending, this parting of ways between McClane and Powell. The direction dictates that it's happy, but it feels completely false. There's something missing. (And so there is: A last quip by Powell---"You were right. You couldn't have made it without me."---has been edited out, or perhaps was never actually filmed.)
* * * *
There was something missing from Alfonso Soriano's presumed farewell from the RFK Stadium clubhouse---and, by extension, from Washington's fans---after today's 6-5 series sweeper over the San Francisco Giants:
And that's that?
To be sure, Soriano provided his own big bang (and zoom)---a lead-off rip-job of a homer. And the fans provided something of far greater magnitude than a head nod---from the sound of it on the radio, a roaring ovation.
If this is it---and there are too many rumors to discount and too few no-trade-clauses in Stan Kasten's record upon which to base a contrary conclusion---then I'm not sure what to think. I bit sad, I suppose; a little bit empty, a little bit like I imagine Al Powell feels there at the end. I am a fan of this frachise, and Soriano is this franchise's first star, and I like that the franchise for which I root has a star. It's fun. Soriano is fun. And he works hard. And he's a good teammate. And he can hit the ball a hell of a long way, and he can run really, really fast. I'm going to miss him, and no prospect---no matter how hot---or no draft picks---no matter how high---is going to replace that.
When Brad Wilkerson was traded, I was sad intellectually, which might just prove I'm stupid; when Alfonso Soriano is traded, I'll be sad emotionally, which might just prove I'm human.
But what is the point of trading for him if not to enjoy him, and what is the point of trading him away if not to build for the future? Ultimately, the love for him is fleeting; it is like falling in love with a stock ticker. And, no matter how much he seems to love DC back, he is as capable of genuine affection and commitment as that stock ticker itself. After all, he is an impending free agent. If there is any time in his life for him to be calculating and non-sentimental, it is now: For once, Soriano is about to be in control of his destiny, and unlike Jose Guillen, he does not figure to blow it.
So it is unavoidable: Unless Jim Bowden prices himself out of a market for the trading season's hottest commodity, Soriano will be gone and he'll never be back. Appreciate his contribution. Accept his departure.
I would say it's for the greater good, but that's an empty expression and it entirely misses the point. Soriano will leave because he can, and the Nationals must trade him because they can. Let us hope Bowden/Rizzo/Boone/Kasten/Whomever does so wisely.
* * * *
In Friday's Post, Tom Boswell advocates holding on, because it just makes too much sense not to do so. Boswell's reasoning is either facile (citing Soriano's stats since July 3, for no other reason than that's the start of Soriano's latest hot streak), or compelling (Soriano is a loyal man of his word, and he says he wants to stick around), or far too trusting (taking an impending free agent at the word of what he's told the press). Maybe it's all of the above. I'm not going to discount the high probability that a veteran columnist knows far more about---well, most everything in the world---than some schmuck blogger like me; for all I know, Boz and Soriano have had a heart-to-heart where Soriano says, "I want to stay; I really, really do." And, if so, am I about to bemoan a multi-year commitment to Soriano? Not likely, to be honest. Fool me once, fool me twice . . .
But all of this misses the point. To give Jim Bowden proper credit for last December's trade---and however begrudgingly we might do so, we have to do so---we have to view it from a certain analytical framework. Bowden traded for the guy, added a net $6 million in payroll for the rights to the guy, as a measure of providing a team with nothing the chance to turn a star into something.
Okay---you got me. Lord only knows why Bowden made the trade, but grabbing headlines and making a splash probably had something to do with it. This is a guy who publicizes just how much his phone is burning, remember. And, yes, he also coveted Soriano's talent, and he's to be credited for buying into something good.
But Stan Kasten came along, and poof!: Bowden was a changed man. He started talking about the future---prospecting, prospecting, prospecting. Build the organization, hire scouts, develop talent, learn to compete in Latin America, the whole works. It's a plan.
In this plan, Soriano is a grand means to an end, not the end himself. This is especially true in light of the fact that two of the players the organization hoped to trade, Guillen and Jose Vidro, are quite literally untradeable at the moment. It's Soriano and a far more marginal guy, Livan Hernandez, and a bunch of far, far more marginal guys (like Tony Armas Jr. and Ramon Ortiz) and bit guys (like Mike Stanton and Pedro Astacio). Soriano is the franchise's only asset that can return difference-making talent. It really is Soriano or bust.
Now, Boswell pleads for BodesCo not to lower its standards---and there's a point to be made there, as at worst the team can recover two draft picks should Soriano then sign somewhere else at the end of the season. But keeping Soriano? Much as I love him, this would require Kasten to flip-flop his entire stated organizational worldview. There's no law against that, but unless the Lernastens want to dump tens of millions of extra dollars into payroll for next season (including an actual commitment to pitching, pitching, pitching), the time just isn't right. Will the team contend next season? I don't know. The following season? I don't know.
Unless you know, it might be wise to get what you can while you can. Stick to the plan.
As Harper notes, even if Kasten one-eightied and decided to splurge on Soriano plus the requisite pitching to contend, there's not a tremendous amount of talent to be had. Moreover, this is all without considering the whole no-trade thing, which seemed as clear a sign as any of Kasten communicating, "Don't get your hopes up."
Appreciate. Lament. Weep, if you must. But understand.
* * * *
In the meantime: Whoa, this team is HOT! Believe it or not, there exist twenty-four roster spots beyond Soriano's alone, and most of those players are doing their part. For a variety of reasons, the lineup has become far more formidable of late:
- The July 13 trade with the Reds. (Even as disappointing as Felipe Lopez has seemed with the bat thus far, his numbers since the trade---.261/.333/.370---are, what, about what you'd expect from Royce Clayton anyway?)
- The loss of Guillen, with Kearns replacing him.
- The decision to just screw it in centerfield and try actual options, not just the Marlon Byrds and Esophagial Jackson. (Hammy Escobar and Excuses Church, even if they aren't trusted yet by Frank Robinson, have provided a spark.)
And then it's back to trading your superstar, I suppose.