Orioles Trade Tejada For Youth, Potential
Thursday, December 13, 2007
On the spring morning in 2004 when he first showed up at the Baltimore Orioles' spring training camp, shortstop Miguel Tejada, having two months earlier signed a six-year, $72 million contract, came with a dazzling résumé, a history of winning in Oakland and an enthusiastic vow for an organization that had suffered through six straight losing seasons.
"We're going to be a winning team," Tejada said that day, embracing the role of the team's spokesman and focal point. "We're not a losing team no more. I'm going to be playing in the postseason in Baltimore pretty soon."
Nearly four years later, the Orioles' sub-.500 skid is up to 10 years, the organization has been roiled by several high-profile links to baseball's steroid scandal and whatever progress occurs in future years will take place without Tejada, 31, who was traded yesterday to the Houston Astros for five younger players.
In return for Tejada, a four-time all-star and the 2002 American League MVP, the Orioles received 29-year-old outfielder Luke Scott; left-handed pitching prospect Troy Patton, 22; 24-year-old right-hander Matt Albers; 26-year-old right-hander Dennis Sarfate; and 24-year-old third base prospect Michael Costanzo. Patton and Costanzo were recently rated the No. 3 and No. 6 prospects, respectively, in the Astros' organization by Baseball America. Albers, who started 18 games in Houston in 2007, was the team's No. 3-rated prospect in 2006.
The trade "was a function of trying to add as many talented young players as I could get for a very talented player," Andy MacPhail, the Orioles' president of baseball operations and de facto general manager, said in a conference call with reporters.
The timing -- one day before the release of former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell's long-awaited report on steroid use in baseball -- led to questions as to whether persistent drug rumors surrounding Tejada spurred the trade, something MacPhail denied.
"That really didn't have anything to do with it," MacPhail said. The Mitchell report, he said, "was never discussed" with the Astros.
In 2005, then-teammate Rafael Palmeiro implicated Tejada during a congressional investigation into Palmeiro's failed drug test, and a Los Angeles Times report in 2006 said Tejada was named as a steroid user by former teammate Jason Grimsley in a federal affidavit earlier that year.
"It's time to leave me alone," Tejada said in 2006, "because I didn't do anything wrong. . . . They can [test] me all the times they want. I have nothing to hide. I've never had the need to do anything illegal."
The trade, MacPhail's first major move since assuming control of the front office in June, signals a full-scale rebuilding for the Orioles, who have also discussed trades of veterans such as Melvin Mora, Erik Bedard, Ramon Hernandez and Brian Roberts this offseason. Despite the team's persistent losing, owner Peter Angelos had been unwilling to approve a drastic roster downsizing in the past.
"It clearly signals a change," MacPhail said. "And those people who were reluctant to have a change [in the past] have to ask themselves what they were holding onto."
Tejada's signing in December 2003 was part of a flurry of expensive acquisitions -- which also included Palmeiro, catcher Javy Lopez and pitcher Sidney Ponson -- designed to vault the Orioles into contention.
However, after an MVP-worthy 2004 season, Tejada's numbers began a steady decline, and scouts began to whisper that his lost range at shortstop had begun to make him a defensive liability. Meantime, Tejada grew disenchanted in Baltimore and asked for a trade following the 2005 season, a request he later rescinded.
The Orioles continued to explore trades for Tejada, and in July 2006, according to sources with knowledge of the talks, they turned down offers from Houston that would have brought them all-star pitcher Roy Oswalt and either of two young infielders, Adam Everett or Chris Burke.
Upon taking over the Orioles this summer, MacPhail made trading Tejada a top priority, and he met with the shortstop for nearly an hour on the final weekend of the 2007 season to convey those intentions. MacPhail said yesterday that Houston had been the most aggressive suitor.
The Orioles' haul in the Tejada deal is long on potential. Scott is a potent left-handed bat, prone to hot and cold streaks, who could become the everyday left fielder in 2008 and who, of equal importance, is under the team's control for four more years.
But it was the young pitching, according to MacPhail, that made the deal happen from the Orioles' standpoint. One talent evaluator familiar with the Astros' farm system said Patton projects as a No. 3 starter with "makeup off the charts," while Albers is a "pure arm-strength guy with the chance to be a number three, or even a number two" starter. Costanzo, whom the Astros acquired from Philadelphia in the Brad Lidge trade in November, is a power-hitting prospect who hit 27 homers in Class AA in 2007.
Tejada, meantime, becomes the starting shortstop and No. 3 hitter for an Astros team that reached the World Series in 2005 but slipped to 82 wins in 2006 then 73 wins in 2007.
"I feel very happy with this trade," he told the Associated Press, "because it's something that I've been really looking forward to."