Orioles, Tejada prove good fit

Club welcomes shortstop, hopes to put uniforms on a few more free agents

He heard `good things' on team

Ex-MVP joins employees at party on first day here

catcher decision is near

December 19, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As Orioles executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan stood together and watched their new shortstop model his team jersey and cap yesterday, clapping his hands and smiling for the cameras, they must have wondered how many more times they could re-create the scene before spring training.

They wanted to keep the focus on Miguel Tejada, but they also knew how sharp Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez or Javy Lopez would look in the same uniform. It doesn't take a keen eye for fashion to understand this.

Tejada was given No. 10, which once belonged to third baseman Tony Batista. Others remain available at the right price.

Beattie and Flanagan engaged in morning negotiations with Guerrero's representatives, Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz, who stuck around the B&O warehouse to join another client, Tejada, at his news conference before leaving Baltimore later in the afternoon.

They spoke only about Tejada to the media, with Cuza saying, "This is Miguel's day. Let's just keep it on that."

But a club source said team officials are more optimistic about signing Guerrero despite the outfielder's apparent preference to join the Florida Marlins, who would have to persuade him to accept significant deferred money as part of a creatively designed deal.

"We're talking, and we'll continue to talk," Beattie said. "The sooner the better, but at the same time we want to do this in a responsible way."

The Orioles are believed to have offered Guerrero $65 million over five years. They've also offered Rodriguez a three-year, $24 million deal, and have attempted to sign Lopez at $18 million over three years.

Rodriguez told a South Florida television station this week that the Orioles have offered $40 million over four years, figures that a team official disputed last night.

It's still possible the club could obtain both catchers if it's unable to sign Guerrero, with Lopez being used more at first base and designated hitter, but the preference is to pull back one offer after the other is accepted.

The Orioles spoke yesterday with Lopez's agent, Chuck Berry, and are expected to talk again today.

"We're looking to see if it's possible to bridge the gap between their position and our position," Berry said.

With speculation growing that the Orioles might announce a decision today regarding the catchers, Beattie said: "I don't know how I could put a time frame on it."

"My impression," Berry said, "is that, for the time being, they're not in a great rush."

The Orioles secured Tejada during the winter meetings in New Orleans, reaching agreement on a six-year, $72 million contract. "They had the same interest," Benz said. "They wanted him here, and he wanted to play here."

"I decided to come here," Tejada said, "because I heard a lot of good things about this team."

It's appropriate Tejada is wearing Batista's number, because the former third baseman did a pretty good job of selling him on Baltimore. So did reliever Willis Roberts, who recently came off the 40-man roster.

"They tell me that I come to the best city in baseball," Tejada said, "and I just say if you guys tell me that, then it is my decision to come."

One day after signing his contract Sunday and officially severing ties with the Oakland Athletics, Tejada rented a truck, packed it with provisions and drove to his Dominican Republic hometown of Bani.

Tropical Storm Odette, with 65 mph winds, killed at least eight people and left nearly three-dozen families homeless. Tejada and his wife handed out food, clothing, mattresses and other necessities.

The Orioles already are retelling two Tejada stories of their own that illustrate to them his unselfish nature and generosity.

After taking his physical Wednesday, Tejada heard about the employee Christmas party at the B&O warehouse and ventured up to the seventh floor to greet everyone and give a brief speech. Beattie and Flanagan would have understood if he made a hasty retreat to his hotel room.

"That just gives you a little bit of an indication of the type of guy he is," Beattie said. "He wants to be involved, and that's a big part of the whole picture for us. We want players that want to be involved in the community as well as be great baseball players and help us win some ballgames."

Also, Tejada wore No. 4 with Oakland, but the Orioles retired that number to honor Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. Tejada's other choice, 17, conflicted with B.J. Surhoff, a free agent who might return next season. Once Tejada learned that it belonged to Surhoff, he deferred to the veteran.

"I can't keep that number," he said.

Tejada spent seven seasons with the Athletics and was named the AL's Most Valuable Player in 2002. He remembers how the club matured into a contender and expects the Orioles to do the same.

"When I was with Oakland my first three years, we lost more than 90 games," he said. "After that, we put all the work together, and you guys see the difference the last three years."

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