Tejada, O's need a clean break

October 04, 2006|By RICK MAESE

Someone needs to duck down and peer under the bus. You see Miguel Tejada down there? Good, pull him out, march him to the Orioles' warehouse and let everyone with a tie and cuff links know that it's probably time to make a big trade.

Many fans and observers started suggesting the Orioles dish Tejada when he first voiced displeasure with the organization last year. Call me a late convert, because it didn't become as clear to me until this week how much this trade might be needed - by Tejada and by the Orioles.

We'll get to the steroids accusations in a bit, but let's start with the Orioles, our well-intentioned friends who are always on the verge of greatness. They enter this offseason in much better shape than last year, but they're still 10 players away from competing in the American League East. These gaps cannot be plugged solely in the free-agent market.

The big names you keep hearing - players like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee - should not be at the very top of the Orioles' wish list. While those would be fine catches, the Orioles' biggest need continues to be pitching, and dangling Tejada in front of 29 other teams is the most sensible way to beef up the team's rotation and bullpen this offseason.

They could sign Soriano, Lee, Gary Sheffield and Ted Williams' clone, and the Orioles still wouldn't be challenging the Yankees in the AL East.

Let's peek at this year's playoff teams for the sake of comparison, and you'll see where the Orioles' offseason priorities ought to lie.

Offensively, the Orioles finished seventh in batting (.277), but 17th in runs scored (768). Those figures, though, don't necessarily translate into postseason appearances. In fact, the Orioles' team batting average was better than six of the eight playoff teams. Only one playoff team finished in the top six in the majors in runs scored (the Yankees led the majors with 930).

Increased offensive production next season would be nice, but it's not the biggest need. It's like shopping for a second set of fine China when what you really need is some food to eat.

The Orioles finished second-to-last in the majors in ERA (5.35). The staffs that posted six of the game's top eight ERAs managed to lead their teams into the postseason. The Orioles' bullpen was also second-to-last (5.29). The teams with the top five bullpens in baseball all made the playoffs.

And Soriano and Lee should be offseason priorities? I don't think so.

Unfortunately, this year's free-agent class is so bad that to significantly impact the rotation or bullpen, a big trade is probably necessary. Tejada is the one who makes the most sense and not just because his bat is more easily replaceable via free agency.

News this week that again links his name to baseball's never-ending steroid controversy suggests that a change of scenery might be best for all involved. The veracity of the Los Angeles Times story, which stated that Jason Grimsley linked six ex-teammates to performance-enhancing drugs, was called into question Monday night.

By now we know that federal prosecutors have said the report contains serious errors - yet have not given proof to support such a claim or specifically refute the Times' sources. Statements started to trickle out from lawyers and the players themselves seeking absolution from the accusations. Could Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and three Orioles really go from villain to victim with a muted snap of a finger?

And is anything really different? The news containing the latest batch of names was never really about guilt or innocence anyway. None of the players named in the Times' article ever faced criminal charges or punishment by Major League Baseball. The whole thing is just a case of "he said - he may or may not have said" and the only stage it was ever going to play out on was the court of public opinion.

Tejada is familiar with the process. His name was dragged into the steroid controversy a year ago by Rafael Palmeiro. He didn't escape last year's charade with a squeaky-clean image intact, and he won't come out of this one looking like Mr. Rogers either.

Three known cheaters have singled out Tejada: Jose Canseco, Palmeiro and Grimsley. We don't know if they're all right or they're all wrong, but it'd be naive to at least not consider that where there's smoke, there's often fire.

And now, there's just too much smoke surrounding Tejada to not accept that a serious change might be best for everyone involved.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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