The hangover from last season isn't gone. In fact - and you would have laughed at this thought two months ago - it's only getting worse.
Miguel Tejada, who's suddenly as unpredictable as an M. Night Shyamalan movie, wants out. The Orioles' star shortstop told the Associated Press that he wants to be traded, the latest twist in the team's yearlong nightmare.
The Orioles don't know whether to sigh, groan or scream, and fans can't figure out whether to jeer a spoiled superstar or gang up on an ineffective front office.
"We want [the front office] to do something," said teammate Melvin Mora. "If the team's not going in the right direction, sometimes you have to go away. I respect his position and I'll see what happens in the next two, three weeks."
Tejada is either trying to send a message or he's sincerely reached his tipping point. One thing is certain: Tejada is a different man from the one the Orioles signed two years ago. It wasn't long ago that this guy was the life of the party. Now he's the guy in the corner, grumbling as he eyes the door.
Seemingly overnight, Tejada went from being an All-Star shortstop to a misunderstood character in a film noir.
The old Tejada would smile for the cameras. He was committed to winning here in Baltimore. He said the right things and seemed sincere about them.
So when exactly did things change? Yesterday?
Actually, what I'm wondering right now is whether they really have changed. Tejada strikes me as a guy who speaks out of frustration, maybe exaggerates his intentions to match his mood.
There was one day in September when Tejada was tired. He told a Sun reporter that he was thinking about sitting out a game, which would've ended his streak of consecutive games.
"My streak will be over," he said then, "probably this year."
Of course, he backed away from those statements the very next day and by season's end, the longest active streak in the majors was still alive.
Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said last week that he'd just spoken to Tejada and the shortstop was back to being his old self. Even Tejada's agent, Diego Bentz, said just a couple of days ago that Tejada was looking forward to winning in Baltimore next season.
Is everyone lying? Or did something happen in the past few days that changed his mind? Maybe he just took a bit too much B-12 yesterday.
It's probably pretty simple. Most likely, it's that not much has happened, and Tejada is simply tired of it. It's hard to blame him for that.
Let's recap the offseason up to this point: The Orioles were unable to get Carlos Delgado, Paul Konerko, or A.J. Burnett. The winter meetings concluded yesterday in Dallas, and the Orioles came home with LaTroy Hawkins and Ramon Hernandez.
It should be noted that Hernandez and Tejada were teammates in Oakland and close friends. Reason suggests he should have been excited by that move.
But reason also suggests that he'd suffer from the same frustration that's raced through the veins of nearly every Orioles fan these past few months.
"I just think about the good players we need to compete with Boston and the Yankees and Toronto now," Mora said. "They've got [A.J.] Burnett, we have to face that guy. They got B.J. Ryan, and he was one of us and now he's one of the best closers in baseball. Now, we have hitting, but we have to face those guys. Who is going to pitch for us?"
It's not always easy to maintain your loyalty. Did you see the empty seats at Camden Yards in September? The fans gave up. Should it be so shocking that a player might, too, especially one whose effort down the stretch last year was already suspect?
The guess here is that if he was serious about wanting to be traded, he would have informed the Orioles' front office and his agent - not a reporter on a telephone. And he would have done it two months ago - not on the final day of the winter meetings.
If I'm Flanagan, I'm on an airplane today headed toward the Dominican Republic. I'd land in Santo Domingo and start explaining everything to Tejada as soon as possible.
The reality is: A little more patience is required.
By this point, though, words might not be enough. And it might be too late for action.
"It's about the front office signing people," Mora said. "That's the way to convince Tejada to stay here. We want to see at least two big pitchers come here so we can compete."
The irony is that the Orioles are actually starting to show hints of direction. By refusing to part with young talent, the Orioles sent a message that they're not willing to compromise the future.
I think a plan is in place, and I think all eyes are on 2007. The Orioles' No. 1 priority now is persuading Tejada to stick around and be a part of it.
Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog