Teixeira can go home again, but that's not to Baltimore

August 05, 2007|By DAN CONNOLLY

When it was announced that the Atlanta Braves acquired first baseman Mark Teixeira for a rookie and four prospects, some frustrated Orioles fans spewed venom on Internet message boards and sports talk shows.

They should be disappointed.

Not because the Orioles didn't land the savior from Severna Park, however, but because of where he ended up.

The simple truth is they couldn't offer a fraction of the package that Atlanta did because the top level of the Orioles' farm system is still mostly barren.

Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels wasn't interested in a trade with the Orioles if left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard wasn't involved. The Orioles, understandably, wouldn't include their ace, who is controlled through 2009 - a year longer than Teixeira. That's where the talks began and ended.

Daniel Cabrera, a 26-year-old who can't consistently harness his talent, and a cadre of other marginal prospects, such as Garrett Olson and Jim Hoey, don't get you in the conversation for a stud like Teixeira. Especially not when Atlanta is giving up catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 22, and four of its other top 18 farmhands, including its No. 2 prospect, 18-year-old infielder Elvis Andrus, and its No. 3, left-hander Matt Harrison, 21.

Baseball America rated the Braves' system 16th this season, just one spot ahead of the Orioles'. But in the previous five years, the Braves never dropped below seventh and the Orioles rose above 19th just once.

Regardless, Orioles fans have a right to be angry - or frightened, anyway. Because Teixeira will play his next year-plus in the absolute worst place for those dreaming of Big Tex in Camden Yards.

It would have been slightly painful to see the native Marylander with the Orioles' American League East rivals, the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, this year and next. But having Teixeira with a tomahawk across his chest should pierce the hearts of Orioles fans; Atlanta is the one spot that could rival Baltimore if Teixeira is feeling homesick and charitable.

The common belief is that Teixeira, who is represented by Scott Boras, will declare for free agency after the 2008 season and go to the highest bidder. He did, after all, turn down an eight-year, $140 million extension with the Rangers last month. And Boras' guys test the waters almost without fail. Ultimately, however, Teixeira is the boss and can make the call to forgo the stress of free agency if he wants.

The hope around here was that the Orioles could get him early, remind him how great it is to play in his hometown and persuade him to stay before he hits the open market.

Not only is that hope lost, but there's this: Atlanta is the only place that holds a similar allure.

"When I heard the Braves were the leading contender [to trade for him], I was so excited," Teixeira told Atlanta reporters Tuesday. "I spent some great years here in Atlanta."

It's his college town. It's where he met his wife, who grew up in northern Georgia. And he has made no secret that he loves the area.

"He has always told me that when his baseball career is over, he's going to live in Atlanta," Danny Hall, Georgia Tech's baseball coach, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "So I guess it's just happening a little sooner than he thought it would."

Want more heartbreak, Baltimore?

Well, in American Legion ball, Teixeira wore No. 10 in honor of Chipper Jones.

Guess who has the locker next door in Atlanta?

Here's the final dagger, held securely in the hands of another local guy: John Schuerholz, the Braves' general manager and a Baltimore native, has done this kind of thing before.

Most recently, in December 2004, Schuerholz traded three prospects to the Oakland Athletics for pitcher Tim Hudson, who would have been a free agent after the 2005 season. Hudson, a Georgia native who grew up as a Braves fan in Alabama, eschewed free agency and signed a four-year extension in March 2005.

Schuerholz is a calculated risk-taker. He knows how much his staff's professionalism and manager Bobby Cox's steady hand impress players. He wouldn't have made this move without thinking he had some chance of keeping Teixeira.

Depending on how he handles some other expiring deals - the four most expensive Braves contracts could come off the board by the end of 2008 - Schuerholz could have the money to make Teixeira a legitimate offer.

And, honestly, Atlanta's shot to keep him away from free agency is better than the Orioles' for one simple reason: The Braves win. They won 14 straight division titles before finishing third last year. Now, they're back in the hunt again.

The Orioles haven't been good since Teixeira was a senior at Mount St. Joseph. The Rangers have never finished higher than third in the five years he was in Texas.

"This is what every player plays for - to be with a team that has a chance to win a World Series," Teixeira said.

He could get that same feeling in New York, Boston or Los Angeles. He could have the personal connection in Baltimore.

In Atlanta, though, he could have both.

That's what should bother Orioles fans. Not that their beloved team didn't acquire Teixeira a year before free agency, but that the Braves, of all teams, did.

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