By: Joe Pohoryles
I recently evaluated the longest- and shortest-tenured players for each DC sports team, and in a similar fashion, I will begin looking at a middle ground of sorts: the best one-year wonders for each team.
A one-year wonder in a sports context can be defined as a player who only had one good season in their entire career, such as Peyton Hillis, who totaled 1,647 scrimmage yards and 13 total touchdowns as a running back for the Cleveland Browns in 2010, and was featured on the cover of the Madden 12 video game for the following season, then never eclipsed 600 rushing yards or three touchdowns for the remaining four years of his career.
On a franchise scale, it can be defined as a player who starred in his lone season with the team. For this series, we will be going by the latter definition. For all four DC teams, players have come and gone after one season, most not making any notable impact, but a select few turning in star-level performances. In this series, we have be looked at the players who made the most of their limited time in DC, concluding with the Nationals.
Alfonso Soriano (Left Fielder, 2006)
The Nats traded for Soriano prior to the 2006 season, the team’s second year in Washington, and it was not a smooth transition. After Soriano received a $10 million salary (the highest ever rewarded in arbitration at the time), the Nats offered him a five-year/$50 million extension. Soriano wanted to reach free agency following the season, so he rejected the deal, and shut down any future negotiations until after the 2006 season.
Once the season actually started, manager Frank Robinson rubbed his new star player the wrong way by slotting the natural second baseman in left field since second base was already manned by Jose Vidro. Soriano initially refused to play after the positional switch, but once the team threatened to disqualify his contract, preventing him from reaching free agency at season’s end, he gave in.
Soriano had made the All-Star Game in the four previous seasons, so the events during the offseason and the learning curve of a new position (on a last-place team, no less) were all cause for concern about his prospects in DC, but Soriano didn’t skip a beat.
Soriano brought stellar defense to the outfield, and brought a level of offense reminiscent of his 2002 season, where he finished third in AL MVP voting with the New York Yankees.
With the Nats, he became the fastest player to reach 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases (929 games), and by season’s end he became the first player to have 40 home runs, 40 stolen bases, 40 doubles and 20 stolen bases in a single season.
He made his fifth consecutive All-Star Game, and was the only representative from the Nats. He went 1-2 in the lead-off spot, and managed to steal a base as well.
The 30-year-old Soriano finished the year with team-highs in home runs (46), stolen bases (41), total bases (362), slugging percentage (.561) and WAR (6.1). While he also led the team in strikeouts (160), he finished in the top three for RBI (95), walks (67), doubles (46) and batting average (.277). Despite his efforts, the Nats finished the year 71-91, fifth in the NL East.
Although the team struggled, Soriano earned his fourth Silver Slugger award, and he finished sixth in NL MVP voting. Had the Nats finished with a better record, he may have finished even higher in the MVP race.
With his free agency on the horizon, and the Nats well-out of contention, Soriano’s name always popped up on the trade block. Offers came in from the Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Nats decided none were worth a deal. Soriano expressed he wanted to stay in Washington, and the feeling was mutual with fans and teammates wanted him to return.
While the Nats offered a $70 million deal shortly after the conclusion of the season, Soriano declined and wound up signing an eight-year/$136 million deal with the Cubs. Soriano would make the next two All-Star games as a Cub, but slowly declined as he reached his mid-30s.
Aside from personal accomplishments, there was not much to take away from Soriano’s lone season in DC from a team perspective, not that he is to blame for that. Still, in the Nationals’ short history, no one-year player has been nearly as prolific as Soriano was in 2006.