In a potential blockbuster deal, the Orioles discussed sending All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada to Houston for a package that would have included Astros ace Roy Oswalt before the pitcher was yanked out of trade talks last night.
Several industry sources confirmed the Orioles and Astros were negotiating dealing Tejada for third baseman Morgan Ensberg, shortstop Adam Everett and Oswalt, 28, who has won 91 major league games. However, late last night, the Astros informed several clubs, including the Orioles, that Oswalt no longer was available in a trade, an industry source said.
Regardless, the Orioles had not been inclined to make the deal unless there had been changes, several club sources said. The Orioles' main concern was that they'd have Oswalt, who will be a free agent after 2007, for only one year and then he'd sign a lucrative offer elsewhere.
Less than 24 hours before today's 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline, two high-ranking Orioles officials said they still expect the deadline to pass without Tejada being traded. If a deal were made, one of the officials said, it likely would "go down to the wire."
Orioles officials are not commenting on individual trade scenarios. Astros general manager Tim Purpura also refused to discuss trade proposal specifics yesterday, but said: "We are being aggressive for any impact hitter. At this time we are trying to acquire an impact hitter." He would not comment further.
The Orioles are also fielding offers for reliever LaTroy Hawkins, first baseman-outfielder Jeff Conine and starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez, but no deals were imminent as of last night.
Orioles assistant general manager John Stockstill, who is in charge of professional scouting, recently spent 10 days scouting the Los Angeles Angels and much of the past week in Houston watching the Astros. In his most recent start Saturday, Oswalt (8-7, 3.23 ERA) allowed one run and struck out eight in eight innings as the Astros beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-1.
Several sources said the Astros were considered the leader of a potential three-team sweepstakes for Tejada - the other teams are the Texas Rangers and Angels - but now Houston is likely out of the running. The Los Angeles Dodgers also remain in the picture, but their interest is not as strong as the other three teams'. The Rangers' offer, which is centered around former All-Star third baseman Hank Blalock and top pitching prospect John Danks, falls short for the Orioles because it does not include quality, established pitching.
According to one high-ranking club official, the Orioles still feel a deal with the Angels "makes the most sense." The Angels have offered young right-hander Ervin Santana as well as shortstop prospect Erick Aybar for Tejada. But the Orioles would like more - perhaps first baseman Casey Kotchman or Single-A pitcher Nick Adenhart - to sweeten the deal, one club source said.
One Angels official told the Los Angeles Times that the club was surprised by Tejada's comments Saturday that he would not be willing to move from shortstop to third base if traded. The Angels' starting shortstop is Orlando Cabrera, who is widely considered to be defensively superior to Tejada. Although earlier published reports indicated that Cabrera would be willing to switch to third to make room for Tejada, Cabrera said yesterday he has not been approached about a position change.
Tejada took an even stronger stance yesterday, saying: "I am playing short. I want to play short. If I am going to be a winner, I am going to be a winner at my position. Right now, I am happy playing shortstop here. If I am going to win, I am going to win playing shortstop somewhere."
Tejada was 1-for-4 with two RBIs in the Orioles' 8-7 comeback win over the White Sox yesterday. After leading the charge out of the dugout after Javy Lopez's game-winning hit off Chicago closer Bobby Jenks, Tejada said he didn't think he played his last game in an Orioles' uniform.
"I don't think about it that way," Tejada said. "I don't think this is going to be my last game. It was just another day here, now I am going home and I'll come back tomorrow."
Before Saturday's game, Tejada said: "I am not trying to leave here. They're trying to make me leave. It's the team, not me. I don't have control of that. The manager and I don't know who, they want to take me out of here."
Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said he spoke to Tejada after Saturday's game to clear the air and said they are on the same page.
Several Orioles said they didn't want the shortstop, who remains a popular teammate, to get traded.
"You're talking about our team leader and a top-five player in the game," said designated hitter Jay Gibbons. "It's hard to swallow losing him, so hopefully nothing happens. ... It's just one of those things where you've got a prize commodity and you never know. Somebody might make an offer that we can't refuse."
When the Astros and Orioles discussed a Tejada deal last winter after the shortstop's demand for a trade, Houston officials refused to offer Oswalt. The pitcher, who is making $11 million in 2006, has one year left in arbitration and could command about $15 million next season. He then is eligible for free agency, something industry insiders expect him to test.
In contrast, Tejada is signed through 2009 at an average of about $12.7 million per season. Ensberg, who probably would have been moved to first base if he had joined the Orioles, and the slick-fielding Everett won't become free agents until after 2008.
Orioles officials insist that they are not actively shopping Tejada, who leads the club in average, home runs and RBIs.
"We don't have to deal him," Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said. "We've always kept our position that he is a terrific player that we want to build around. That hasn't changed. But our job is to listen to offers. We're doing what we're supposed to do."