Tejada's future tops offseason agenda

Rout by Yankees caps 10th straight losing season

Yankees 10 Orioles 4

October 01, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN REPORTER

Four seasons ago, shortstop Miguel Tejada walked into the Orioles clubhouse and confidently proclaimed to the media and his new teammates that this club would soon be a winner.

As he left Camden Yards yesterday evening after a season-ending 10-4 loss to the Yankees and another 90-plus-loss year in the books, Tejada shrugged. With two years left on his contract but speculation afoot that he might be traded in order to add young talent to a thin roster, Tejada could only offer uncertainty about his future and that of the team he expected to lift onto his shoulders in 2004.

"That's what I thought then. I don't know what to do," said Tejada, who ended the season with a .296 average, 18 homers and 81 RBIs in 133 games. "I put up good numbers every year and we still lost. I don't know [what] we got to do. The front office, I think they are really smart, and the new guy, he knows how to win."

Tejada's fate will be the most pressing and serious issue for new club president Andy MacPhail and his staff, which will hold organizational meetings next Monday in Sarasota, Fla. It shouldn't be the only hot topic - the club has endured a franchise-record 10 straight losing seasons.

"I think there will definitely be changes," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who hugged Tejada and exchanged cell phone numbers before they left the clubhouse. "Tell you the truth, thank goodness it's not my job to figure out how many changes are going to have to be made.

"I think when you talk to guys, we feel good about a lot of the things we have in place," said Roberts, who batted .290 and shared the league lead with 50 stolen bases. "But we also do know there certainly does have to be some changes here and there."

Despite having the 12th highest payroll in baseball, the Orioles (69-93) finished with their worst record since 2002 and tied for third worst in the majors with the Kansas City Royals. (The Royals won the tiebreaker based on last year's record, so the Orioles will pick fourth in the 2008 amateur draft.)

It's the Orioles' ninth fourth-place finish in 10 seasons, and it came courtesy of an 11-28 skid that started the day manager Dave Trembley's contract was extended for 2008.

"I wish it would have turned out different for a lot of reasons and a lot of people," Trembley said about the 2007 season. "Mainly for the fans and the players, not for me."

When asked what needs to be added for 2008, Trembley said: "Pitching. Bona fide major league pitching."

Yesterday's loss to the Yankees was the latest, and mercifully final, example of how overmatched this pitching staff is - especially after season-ending injuries to the majority of the starters and closer Chris Ray.

Left-hander Brian Burres (6-8) started but lasted just 3 1/3 innings, allowing six runs on nine hits and two walks. He was replaced by journeyman Victor Zambrano, who walked the first batter he faced and then hit the second.

Zambrano's line was typical of the Orioles' late-season bullpen: One inning pitched, one hit, four walks, three earned runs, one wild pitch and one hit batter. The Orioles' ERA last month was 6.89, the majors' worst September mark in 51 seasons. The Orioles' August ERA (6.62) was the second worst for that month in 51 seasons.

With a win yesterday, they would have posted a season-series victory against the Yankees for the first time since 1997.

Kevin Millar gave the Orioles a 1-1 tie in the second with his 17th homer. But the Yankees scored eight runs in the next three innings to put the game out of reach and even the season series at 9-9.

The Yankees begin their 13th consecutive postseason appearance Thursday in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Orioles have to plan for next year, which Trembley said starts "after I get out of the shower."

All of baseball will be watching what happens to Tejada, the club's most expensive and most heralded player. When he left the field in the sixth inning yesterday for a pinch runner, only a handful of people in the announced crowd of 43,589 rose to their feet and applauded him in what might be his last moment in an Orioles uniform.

In contrast, when Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez left for a pinch runner in the fourth inning, the pro-Yankee Camden Yards crowd showered the American League's likely Most Valuable Player with an ovation.

In what used to be Tejada's house, the visitor received the adulation, not the player who was supposed to be the savior when he arrived in 2004.

Now he doesn't know whether he'll stay where he is, be moved to third base or be completely out of the organization in 2008.

"Every time the season is over, it is the same thing. There are going to be changes, so I don't know," he said. "I just work here and I'll just wait and see what happens."

What he most wants - like the rest of his teammates - is to put 2007 behind him.

"I am tired," he said. "Tired and not happy, because we should do better."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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