Tejada's return to O's — in realistic terms

A long list of things would have to go right for team to contend

January 27, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

If you're willing to let bygones be bygones, it'll be fun to see Miguel Tejada back in an Orioles uniform this spring. It'll also be fun to see Nolan Reimold walking without a limp and Nick Markakis clean-shaven again and all of them working out in a spring training facility that wasn't built when their parents were still in short pants.

It'll be fun because it's always fun in February and March, when the losses don't hurt that much and it's still possible to at least imagine a scenario in which the Orioles can end their ugly string of 12 straight losing seasons.

Let's not get carried away.

In a perfect world, this O's team could be the surprise team of the American League, as a few out-of-town prognosticators and fantasy baseball columnists have speculated, but the list of things that would have to go right is so long that I wouldn't advise getting that far out over your skis just yet.

The return of Tejada - trumpeted during Tuesday's news conference at the Warehouse - certainly adds another promising variable to the competitive equation, but it is the sheer number of those variables that make a truly upbeat season a very tough sell.

That didn't stop Tejada from trying to sell it.

"Last time, I could not be a winner," he said, "so I think this time is the time to be a winner, and I came back here for a reason. I'm happy to be in Baltimore. I love it here, and I hope this time we do what we were looking for last time."

Sure, Tejada should have a positive impact on the offense. He didn't have 199 hits last year or lead the National League in doubles by accident. He's an aggressive hitter and proven run-producer who is a definite offensive upgrade over the 2009 version of Melvin Mora, and there are other intangible benefits that come with his bat in either the No. 2 or No. 4 slot in the batting order.

But even if he can still hit as he did in his prime (one variable), there's also the matter of him making the successful transition from shortstop to third base (another variable) and the question of whether he really will enhance team chemistry during his second go-round with the team (still another).

"I've been playing baseball for a long time," Tejada said Tuesday. "I know it's a different position. I think I'm going to have more than a month to work out in spring training to learn how to be in that position. I know it's not an easy thing to do, but I know I'm going to have a lot of time to work with the coaches and try to do my job."

My guess is that he'll be fine on all counts, but those are just the issues that surround the Orioles' newest addition of this offseason. There are question marks all over the roster, and just about all of them have to be answered in a positive way for the Orioles to be any kind of factor in the American League East.

The Orioles have taken a flier on free-agent corner infielder Garrett Atkins, hoping that he can bounce back from a disappointing 2009 season and reverse some troubling statistical trends. They're banking on developmental progress from Reimold, who is coming off heel surgery, and Brad Bergesen, whose strong rookie season was cut short by a nasty line drive off his shin.

When you have to depend on the guys who surprised you last year to surprise you even more this year, you're getting into an area where mere optimism just isn't enough.

It's fine to look at newly acquired starter Kevin Millwood and project the solid numbers he has averaged over his career - even taking into account the difficulty of pitching in the AL East - but the popular notion that he'll have a significant positive effect on Jeremy Guthrie and the rest of the young rotation is only a theory (and another huge variable) until it becomes a reality.

Mike Gonzalez is a nice addition to the bullpen who might take some heat off Jim Johnson, but does anybody really know what the O's are going to get from anybody else out there? There's reason to believe the team will be more effective in the late innings, but there's room to wonder, too.

While we're on the subject, which Luke Scott is going to show up this year - the guy who didn't miss a fastball in April and May or the guy who fell off the map in July and August?

The Orioles need so many things to go right to crack .500 this season that we're almost getting into Power Ball country, but at least there is enough real, upside potential to consider it a possibility, however distant.

Or it could just be like that moment in the movie "Dumb and Dumber" when the doofus asks the beautiful girl what the chances are of him ending up with her and she says, "One in a million."

So, you're saying there's a chance.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM), and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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