Rate it a solid ... maybe

Deal not overwhelming, but perhaps equal to Tejada's market value

Trade analysis

December 13, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

Orioles executives no longer believed Miguel Tejada had the range to stay at shortstop, and he has never played any other position as a big leaguer. He turns 32 in May, his best offensive years are behind him and he's due $26 million through 2009.

His customary enthusiasm has wavered since 2005, and his name previously has been linked with performance-enhancing drugs, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he were mentioned when the Mitchell Report is released today.

Therefore, trading Tejada to the Houston Astros for five younger players looks on the surface to be the right move to make.

But is it?

Based on the inexperience of the players the Orioles received, that answer won't be known for several years. However, industry-wide, the sentiment is that this wasn't exactly a slam-dunk, had-to-make-it kind of deal.

Instead, it's viewed as a solid return of usable parts, an understandable and acceptable swap for an aging superstar. But there's not one guy in the Houston Five who is considered a difference-maker. And Tejada is, despite his warts and hefty paycheck, a four-time All-Star and former Most Valuable Player who is beloved by his teammates and possesses unconventional power and run production for a middle infielder.

"Time will tell about the trade," one National League talent evaluator said. "The Orioles are saving money and stockpiling young pitchers, but neither one of the pitchers have front-line starter stuff, the type you need to compete in that division."

The two starters, left-hander Troy Patton and right-hander Matt Albers, project as legitimate big leaguers, but likely won't rise beyond the middle of a rotation, according to several observers. Baseball America ranked the duo second and third, respectively, in the Astros' organization heading into 2007 - but Houston has been listed in the bottom third of farm systems since 2003.

Luke Scott, an intense power hitter who should fill a void in left field and against right-handed pitching, has struggled with injuries and is seen by some as a fourth outfielder. Reliever Dennis Sarfate has closer stuff and Daniel Cabrera control. And third baseman Mike Costanzo is an offensive and defensive project, albeit one with true power.

There's no Roy Oswalt offered this time around as there was briefly in July 2006. But then again, this isn't the same Tejada. His value and reputation have taken a hit. So much that his availability barely made a ripple at last week's winter meetings.

The San Francisco Giants had interest, and the St. Louis Cardinals kicked Tejada's tires - but neither of those clubs is swimming in prospects, either. The Los Angeles Angels, with a rich farm system, seemed like a good fit, but they never really pursued Tejada this time.

That left only the aggressive Astros, who now have one of the best lineups in baseball. And the conventional wisdom is that Tejada will thrive batting in front of Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee and playing for a team that should contend for the crown in the weak National League Central.

"Miggi is going to be rejuvenated over there," the NL source said. "Great hitters' park and [he'll be] playing in a wide-open division, where from Day One he won't have to think about how to overcome the Yankees and the Red Sox."

The bottom line is Tejada should immediately improve an already good Houston offense at the sacrifice of pitching depth and up-the-middle defense.

And the Orioles got younger, cheaper and added much-needed depth that could - maybe as soon as 2008 - turn into solid building blocks.

In theory, failing to get a Top 50 prospect for a player like Tejada is disappointing.

In reality, given Tejada's dwindling market value, acquiring five guys who could fill holes in a rebuilding effort is probably the best the Orioles could expect to do this winter.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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