The end of the Miguel Tejada era in Baltimore is also expected to mark the beginning of Andy MacPhail's Orioles rebuilding project
Two years after demanding a trade from the organization, Tejada was sent yesterday to the Houston Astros for five players - outfielder Luke Scott, third baseman Michael Costanzo and pitchers Matt Alberts, Troy Patton and Dennis Sarfate.
The trade of the team's most accomplished player was MacPhail's boldest move since being hired as president of baseball operations in June. It's also the first major indication the club is committed to dismantling its veteran nucleus in favor of a roster that is younger and cheaper and - the front office feels - gives the organization a better chance for success in the future.
"It clearly signals a change," MacPhail said in an afternoon conference call.
The Orioles discussed Tejada with several clubs, including the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels. However, the Angels, thought to be the best fit, never showed much interest, while the Astros were clearly the most aggressive suitor and offered the best package.
"Nobody knows for certain how these young players are going to evolve, but if you get five, you start playing the percentages, quite honestly," MacPhail said.
Tejada, 31, whose trade value has dropped because of questions about his defense and power, still remained one of three significant trade chips at MacPhail's disposal to upgrade the Orioles' flawed roster. MacPhail continues to listen to offers for the other two - All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts and ace starter Erik Bedard.
The Chicago Cubs have been aggressively pursuing Roberts, and their signing of Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome will allow them to put more focus on trying to land the switch-hitting leadoff man. It might also make them more willing to trade one of their young outfielders.
The Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers are among the teams seeking Bedard. As of last night, two team sources said no deals were imminent, but the five-player return for Tejada and the fact that the Astros are assuming the $26 million (over two years) on his contract puts the Orioles in good position.
"There are some other things that we'd still like to do," MacPhail said. "But I think you have to evaluate things on a case-by-case basis and see if it sets up to the standard over whether you are better off after you do [the trade] than before. We think we are better off after [today's deal] than we were before."
Scott, a 29-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder who played three big league seasons in Houston, would form a left-field platoon with Jay Payton, though Payton remains a top candidate to be jettisoned. Costanzo was assigned to the minors, but Patton, Albers and Sarfate, who is out of minor league options, will be given a chance to win jobs in the Orioles' rotation or bullpen this spring.
Patton, a 22-year-old left-hander, and Albers, a 24-year-old right-hander, were the essential parts of the package as MacPhail continues to try to stockpile pitching depth. Both pitched in the majors last year and had been considered two of the top prospects in a thin farm system.
"Obviously, we're trying to improve the club not only for next year, but down the road," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "The approach that we're taking was clearly defined. We're going to go with pitching and try to find as many quality arms as we can."
The Orioles are without a starting shortstop, though they are interested in Adam Everett, who was nontendered yesterday by the Astros after they traded for Tejada. MacPhail said the Orioles will consider Luis Hernandez for the spot, but also look outside the organization.
Tejada's reluctance to move from shortstop to third base for the Orioles, a transition that the club discussed with him because of concerns about his range, was another factor that accelerated the deal.
"I think I can still play shortstop, and changing positions, that would have been a lot on my mind," said Tejada, who expressed no regrets about the four seasons he played in Baltimore but was happy to be traded to a potential contender. "I think the Orioles are going to try to rebuild the team, and it's going to be great for the team to get all these young guys. I don't think it's just going to be me [getting traded]."
Orioles owner Peter Angelos wished Tejada "great success in the future."
"He's a wonderful athlete, and he gave his all for the Orioles," Angelos said. " I will miss him. He's a great guy."
Several Orioles had the same reaction, including Roberts, who had listened to two years of trade speculation about Tejada.
"My initial reaction was shock ... but then you start thinking about what is next," Roberts said. "If this is the rebuilding or retooling of our team, I highly doubt it ends with Miggi. It's sad that I probably won't play on the same team with him ever again. But I don't know what the future holds for me. I love it here and I'd be happy to stay, but I may get traded for a couple of prospects, too."
Notes -- MacPhail said today's release of the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs had nothing to do with the timing of the trade and that the two clubs had no discussions about potentially nullifying the deal if one of the traded players is cited in the report. ... The Orioles designated reliever Cory Doyne for assignment. ... Outfielder Tike Redman signed a one-year deal with the club.