Tejada remains in plans of Orioles

A's shortstop, Guerrero, Lopez are top O's targets

Garciaparra unlikely

December 11, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles haven't forgotten about free-agent shortstop Miguel Tejada, even if it seems the rest of the baseball world is ignoring him.

Tejada was the American League's 2002 Most Valuable Player, but so far this offseason, his only reported offer has come from the Seattle Mariners - for three years at between $24 million and $25 million.

Yesterday, a high-ranking Orioles official said they will definitely top that offer, though he declined to say what the number of years or dollar amount will be.

The same club official also shot down the possibility of the Orioles trading for disgruntled Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

Beyond realizing they would have to overpay for Garciaparra to trade for him within their division, the Orioles simply like Tejada more, the source said.

Garciaparra, 30, will make $11.5 million next season in the final year of his current contract.

Tejada, 27, made $3.65 million during his MVP campaign in 2002, when he hit .308 with 34 home runs and 131 RBIs. Last year, he made $5 million and after a terrible start, he finished the season batting .278 with 27 homers and 106 RBIs.

Orioles vice presidents Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie will travel to New Orleans today with several members of their staff for the winter meetings, which officially begin tomorrow. Their three primary free-agent targets, according to numerous industry sources, are Tejada, outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and catcher Javy Lopez.

Guerrero, 27, may be the jewel of this free-agent class, but the Orioles understand there could be drawbacks to making him their primary franchise player.

Guerrero's English skills are limited, so it would be tough for him to attach himself to the fan base, though there is no doubt his contributions would be welcome on the field.

"You put Vladimir in any lineup in baseball and he improves the club tremendously," Beattie said. "I don't mean to be glib, but he's a great player. He does things offensively, he does things defensively, he plays with a lot of intensity, he's a tremendous athlete to watch."

Guerrero and Tejada come from the Dominican Republic - Guerrero from Nizao Bani and Tejada from Bani. But while Guerrero shied away from the press playing for the Montreal Expos, Tejada has been an outspoken leader with the Oakland Athletics.

If the Orioles can pull off a coup, and sign both players, Tejada could turn into the media darling, allowing Guerrero to just go out and play.

On Sunday, the Athletics maintained their slim hope of keeping Tejada, offering him salary arbitration. For that reason, the Orioles would have to give Oakland their second-round pick in next year's draft if they sign Tejada.

The Expos did not offer Guerrero arbitration, and neither did the Atlanta Braves with Lopez, so the Orioles could sign either without losing a draft pick.

Guerrero and Tejada have the same agents - Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz - and they haven't said much to the national media this offseason, which is one reason there have been limited reports about their negotiations. Neither agent returned calls to The Sun again yesterday.

Another potential suitor for Tejada and Guerrero, the Anaheim Angels, appeared to drop out of the running on Wednesday, when they signed pitcher Bartolo Colon to a four-year deal. Angels owner Bill Stoneman told the Los Angeles Times that Tejada and Guerrero were "probably not" options.

Seattle seems to be the favorite to get Tejada, but the Detroit Tigers may have helped their chances by signing second baseman Fernando Vina yesterday.

Even with the market looking grim for Tejada, Oakland general manager Billy Beane has been careful not to inflate the hopes of A's fans.

"Right now," Beane told the San Francisco Chronicle last week, "our focus is on a couple of other guys, and to retain Miguel is probably unrealistic based on our payroll."

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