Soriano a hot topic at luncheon

Soriano the hot topic at new coaches luncheon

PHILADELPHIA -- Somewhere in the Dominican Republic, Alfonso Soriano has likely enjoyed an 86-degree day, perhaps on the beach or in his San Pedro de Macoris home.

In Philadelphia, the free-agent outfielder was the most mentioned name at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies held a media luncheon to welcome two of manager Charlie Manuel's three coaches.

Though no one on the Phillies, from general manager Pat Gillick on down, can publicly say anything, multiple baseball sources confirm that the Phillies plan to be one of the several teams lined up to bid on this winter's premier offensive free agent. That begins on Sunday, when team's can begin making offers.

New first-base coach Davey Lopes won the popularity contest because he witnessed Soriano's 46 home runs and 41 stolen bases from the prime real estate of the first-base coach's box with the Nationals.

"Nobody pound-for-pound can hit a ball as far as this guy," Lopes said. "They said he wouldn't hit in D.C. because of [spacious RFK Stadium]. He made that a small ballpark. He's a guarantee to hit 30-to-40 home runs. That's his history. A big park in D.C. didn't change that. Changing leagues did not change that."

Remember the home run Ryan Howard hit on Aug. 29, the one that clanged off the batter's eye high above the 410-foot sign in center field?

"That's what Soriano does," Lopes said. "He does that to left-center."

Obviously, Lopes is biased in his desire to see Soriano in red pinstripes, but understands the business side of life. Soriano's agent Diego Bentz is aware of his client's value, and is believed to be seeking a deal similar to the seven-year, $119 million deal signed by Carlos Beltran in January 2005.

Philadelphia is believed to readying an opening salvo of five years and $75 million -- a strong starting point -- and are believed to be willing to go as high as six years and $100 million. Gillick understands that's what the market dictates.

"If the market was X last year and XX this year, then if you want to play, you are going to have to pay XX as opposed to X," Gillick said, without the use of a chalkboard. "You can't ever make sure, but when you make these decisions, are you going to be in love with this guy a year from now as much as you are in love with him right now? Those are the decisions you have to make. So, consequently, I don't know if there is a lot of people out there I want to be in love with for five years."

Or six. Gillick has always been opposed to long-term deals with full no-trade clauses, and that also applies to Soriano, who will be 31 on Opening Day. While Gillick said the Phillies are willing to offer a limited no-trade clause, he said a demand of a full no-trade clause was a deal breaker.

"It is for me," he said.

No-trade clauses hampered Gillick's ability to trade Bobby Abreu last summer, and threatens to do the same with Pat Burrell this winter. Burrell is being actively shopped, but doesn't necessarily have to be moved before the Phillies can pursue Soriano. Phillies team president David Montgomery has repeatedly said that he expects the payroll to remain in the $94 million to $95 million range.

"I think our ownership and CEO are pretty practical," Gillick said. "I think anything we bring to them that makes sense in the short-term and the long-term, I don't think they'll be reluctant to make a move. But again, it has to make sense. This is somebody we want around more than a year. If you want to make a commitment, you have to make sure that player is going to figure for you for whatever period of time you are obligated. If you have to give somebody four years and you get three, that's one thing. But if you give a player four and you get one, that's a different story."

Soriano appears to be in his prime. Despite his initial reluctance to switch to left field last season, Soriano took to it well and wound up leading the National League in assists.

Still, the challenge might be convincing Soriano to remain in left field. Assuming the money is similar with offers that are expected to come in from the Mets and Angels, the latter two teams can potentially offer him to play second base. With those three teams all in contention, Soriano may lean in that direction.

"If a team wants him as a second baseman, I think he'll go as a second baseman," Lopes said. "It's not so much what he enjoys or whomever, it's what's baseball thinks. Is there any organization that sees him as an everyday second baseman? I don't know."

Soriano's preference may have Hall of Fame ramifications.

"After he retires, he's smart enough to recognize that if he hits 400 home runs as a second baseman and knock in X amount of RBIs, he's got a real chance of getting into the Hall of Fame," Lopes said. "Statistically, he could shatter what 95 percent of the second baseman have ever done at that position."

Ultimately, Lopes figured what many others have also thought, when it comes to a final decision.

"Green is going to talk for him," Lopes said. "It's how much money somebody is going to throw out his way. If he gets that and it's the right location, more than likely they're going to get Soriano."

And what exactly will they get?

"He can be the missing piece," Lopes said. "Some guys have the ability to elevate other people. That's the kind of guy this guy is. I've never seen anything like it. That smile is there every day. And when I say every day, I mean every day."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.