If Tejada's unable to focus, the choice to trade is clear

O's: Tejada is consistent

December 31, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

Some three weeks after Miguel Tejada suggested he might want to play elsewhere if the Orioles didn't make a bolder effort to improve, it is abundantly clear that the club isn't going to do what he wants.

The Orioles are fundamentally incapable of taking a risk on an expensive free agent or pulling off the kind of major trade that would bring them a frontline pitcher. And while they hold out for the impossible - a risk-free major move to fall into their laps - they're being lapped by the aggressive Toronto Blue Jays, virtually assuring them of a fourth-place finish in the American League East.

Tejada has seen enough, and while he told The Sun's Rick Maese this week that he will show up and play in 2006 if he doesn't get moved, he isn't going to be happy.

I don't blame him, and in fact, I applaud him for being so blunt about the direction of the franchise. Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos can't blame this one on the naysayers who keep insisting the emperor has no clothes.

Those wanting to compare Tejada to Terrell Owens couldn't be more wrong. Tejada doesn't want more money, just to play for a team that shares his desire to win. He's still a player any team would want to build around, but since the Orioles aren't going to be able to appease him, they should trade him. Sad, but true.

The first commandment for a team is to employ players who want to play for them, and while Tejada surely would soldier on at $12 million per season, he wouldn't be into it. We got a sense of what that would look like when the Orioles balked at making a trade deadline move to keep them competitive last season - the failing that, I believe in hindsight, caused Tejada's late-season funk. He batted just .276 with seven home runs after the All-Star break.

Given what they can get in return for him - a ton - they're better off moving him. But let's set a few ground rules.

First of all, no deal with the Red Sox, period. The last thing the Orioles should do is help their divisional rival. The Sox are going to be the better team as it is, so helping them would only lead to more Orioles losses.

Furthermore, any such deal would bring unpredictable slugger Manny Ramirez here, and that's a disaster waiting to happen. Manny would hate being dealt to a loser, and a half-interested Manny would be more trouble than he's worth. I can already hear the tortured explanations for why he's not in the lineup.

As well, without David Ortiz batting in front of him, Manny wouldn't see nearly as many hittable pitches and probably wouldn't produce as much.

Don't do it, even if the Sox throw in pitcher Matt Clement. Yes, Clement went 13-6 last year and would help the Orioles' rotation, but he's 31 and would be all the Orioles had to show for Tejada when Manny started balking, and he's not enough.

Another ground rule for a deal: Whatever comes in return for Tejada can't be qualified by an asertisk - as in, "he would help as long as [fill in the blank]."

In other words, no Mark Prior, a talented, young pitcher whose body is so fragile the Cubs are reportedly ready to unload him. In theory, he's everything the Orioles would want to anchor their rotation, but they have already exceeded their limit on deals that hinge on the recovery of sore-armed pitchers. (Luis Rivera, key to the B.J. Surhoff deal, never threw a pitch here. Kurt Ainsworth, key to the Sidney Ponson deal, didn't throw many.) There are never guarantees with young arms, but how about dealing for one that isn't already a problem spot?

If I'm dealing Tejada, I just hold onto him until the other sides start to sweat. He's a sure thing, an All-Star virtually certain to deliver 30 home runs and more than 100 RBIs. Thus, I would want a sure thing in return, the five-tool prospect the other side doesn't want to deal, such as Cubs center fielder Felix Pie, whom they would rather keep over Prior.

If the Orioles could get a young building block of Pie's caliber along with a solid veteran pitcher and possibly one other player, they should pull the trigger.

Yes, getting rid of Tejada would signal to the fans that the Orioles are playing for the future rather than 2006, but they're already doing that, whether or not they realize it, by sitting so tight while their rivals wheel and deal.

I'd hate to make the move with Tejada. But I'd make it.

john.eisenberg@baltsun.com

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