With deadline 1 week away, Nationals must decide whom to deal Print
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Monday, 23 July 2007 10:48
MLB Headline News

 WASHINGTON (AP) - Jim Bowden walked into the Washington Nationals' clubhouse during last week's homestand, crossed his arms, glanced up at one of the TVs and saw Alfonso Soriano digging into the batter's box at Wrigley Field.
Then, perhaps sensing the dozens of eyes on him as he watched Soriano, Bowden left the room.
A year ago at this time, Soriano was a member of the Nationals, and everyone was watching Bowden, trying to figure out what Washington's general manager would do with the slugging outfielder. The expectation was he would be traded for prospects - but nothing happened.
Soriano played out his one-year contract in Washington, left for the Cubs as a free agent, and Washington got two draft picks as compensation.
Well, here we are again, in a way. The Nationals had an off-day Monday before opening a road trip to NL East rivals Philadelphia and New York, but Bowden was likely to be busy. The main major league trade deadline is July 31, and the Nationals have some big decisions to make over the next week.
Keep top hitter Dmitri Young? Or get whatever he'll bring in a deal? What about infielder Ronnie Belliard? Or relievers Chad Cordero, Jon Rauch and Ray King? What are the chances any of those players could yield a player who would make the Nationals better once they're in their new ballpark, scheduled to open in 2008?
``We know what the plan is over here. Having those guys over here is nice, and they're helping. But where is it taking us right now?'' manager Manny Acta said. ``We know what the ultimate goal here is - to field a championship-caliber ballclub.''
This is the time of year when teams typically are divided into ``buyers'' - meaning they're in the playoff hunt and are looking to add some pieces for the stretch run - and ``sellers'' - meaning they're thinking about next season and beyond and are looking to deal established players for youngsters who could help them in the future.
At 42-56, there's no question into which of those two camps the Nationals fall, even if Bowden said, ``There's a possibility we don't make any trades between now and the deadline.''
As far back as February, Bowden sounded as though he was thinking about being a seller.
It was then, just as players were reporting for the start of spring training, that the Nationals signed Young, Belliard and Tony Batista to minor league contracts - and Bowden repeatedly referred to them as ``assets.''
``It's important,'' the GM said at the time, ``to have pieces to trade.''
Well, they all could go now. All are in their 30s, all have more than 1,100 career hits and all have been All-Stars, including Young this season.
Young has filled in well for injured first baseman Nick Johnson, leading the team with 52 RBIs and a .340 batting average that ranks No. 2 in the NL. Young's defense was suspect at the start of the season, but he's drawn raves lately from Acta and teammates for his hard work and improvement there.
``He has meant a lot. He has meant almost everything,'' Acta said. ``I know without him, we'd still be in last place - and that's where we are with him - but we'd be in much worse shape.''
And with Johnson's return date still unclear, the Nationals could decide they need to keep Young around.
Asked whether Johnson's status would influence a decision about whether to deal Young, Bowden replied, ``I'd say this: If we have an opportunity to make a trade to make our team win a world championship faster, we're going to make that trade. ...
``I also think Dmitri's a really good player to keep. He's on a mission.''
Does Young find the trade talk a distraction?
``I'm not worried about it,'' he said. ``I just come out here and give it my all, 100 percent, to help this team win.''
Belliard, second on the active roster with a .305 average, was asked whether he'd prefer to stay with Washington or go to a contender. In 2006, he was traded from Cleveland to St. Louis and wound up a World Series champion.
``It's not my decision. I'm not thinking about it. I go out there and play hard for nine innings. Whatever happens, happens,'' Belliard said. ``If they trade me, they trade me. If not, I stay here.''
True enough.
One player who did express a preference to stay was Cordero, who has 110 career saves, including an NL-high 47 in 2005 and 19 with a 2.63 ERA this season, but said he'd be willing to move into a setup role with a new team.
``This is the organization that gave me my first chance. I would love to stay here,'' Cordero said. ``I'd love to see that new stadium open, too.''
---
AP freelance writer Rich Campbell contributed to this report.
 

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