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Tejada to Handle

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Piggybacking on AZ's Friday thread a little here - it's like everyone in the NL Central has asked Santa for relievers this Christmas and Santa has obliged, stuffing everyone's stocking w/ as many older relievers as possible. The latest is the Brew Crew's signing of Eric Gagne yesterday. Gagne may be receiving as much as $10 M for his 1 year contract. Yikes!

So, for the record, the Brewers have added 4 relievers now (Gagne, Solomon Torres, David Riske and Guillermo Mota), the Astros - 3 (Geoff Geary, Doug Brocail, Oscar Villareal) and are still looking for a closer, the Reds gave 32 year old Francisco Cordero a 4 year/$46 M contract, and the Cubs have re-signed Kerry Wood. The Cubs, unless they intend to make Wood their closer, will hope that Santa fills their stocking with one in the next month or so. That brings the total reliever acquisitions in the NL Central this offseason to 9 (counting Wood) with at least 1 and maybe 2 left. Only Villareal is under 30 and Doug Brocail is (gulp!) 40. Ed Wade gave him 1 year + an option and $2.5 M to suck. Yes, I know he was decent last year but he was also in San Diego. Refer once again to AZ's Friday thread. If there's one thing the Cards have done fairly well in recent years it's been in finding pretty decent relief help w/o spending a ton of money - the exception being the awful Braden Looper contract that the Cards will finally escape at the end of the season - and he didn't really become worth his contract until Tony and Duncan stuck him in the rotation and he became a tolerable 4th or 5th starter.

On to the main topic, in the last few days there have been whispers from the Cards' organization that it is in the market for a hitter - someone who can contribute, significantly, to the Cards' lineup. It's been kind of overshadowed by the interminable soap opera that is the feud between Rolen and LaRussa but it's been there nonetheless. Additionally, somewhere - and forgive me, for the life of me I can't find the quote - Mozeliak mentioned that the acquisition of Izturis didn't necessarily mean that he would be the starting SS. According to Mo, it might free up Ryan to be traded. Setting aside the notion that Brendan Ryan has a ton of trade value at this point, to me this sends the message that the Cards plan to make a run at Miguel Tejada. Tuesday, in fact, Strauss mentioned that the Cards had discussed Tejada with the O's .

Tejada presently has a lot of warts - he has 2 years and $26 M left on his contract (not that bad, really, by present standards), he'll be 32 next year, he missed 29 games due to a broken wrist last year after not missing more than 3 in a season since 1998, a drop of 78 pts. of OPS from 2006, and the concern about the possibility of his name being mentioned in the Mitchell investigation. Importantly, if the Cards' major problem the last few years has been that they are aging, prone to injury, and in the decline phase of their careers, Tejada does nothing to reverse that trend. If the Cards are playing for 2009 and later, does Tejada do a lot to improve the Cards' chances when he's 34?

He is interesting, however. Broken wrists happen and aren't necessarily a prophecy of future injury problems. Even in a down year last year he was 9th among shortstops in VORP and 10th in RC/27. Bill James has him at .301/.359/.479 which would have put him tied for 6th in OPS among shortstops last year. The ZIPS projections for the O's haven't come out yet. There's no reason to think that Tejada can't be a solid middle of the order hitter for the Cards for 2 years. He's not the Tejada of old (wonder what the Mitchell investigation has to say about that) but he'd still be, sadly, the 2nd or 3rd best hitter in the Cards' lineup.

The other interesting thing about a potential Tejada acquisition is that the O's have already discussed moving him to 3B to better deal with his decreasing range at SS. Defensively, BP had him at -15 FRAA and a Rate of 88. According to PBR, Tejada was also below average last year w/ a predicted outs/actual outs ratio of 97.20 - about 3% below average. Because the defensive metrics are rarely unanimous about a player, THT actually had him as an above-average SS for '07 w/ a RZR of .830 - 7th among all shortstops and 2nd in the AL. Still, the O's plan to move him to 3B and many others who've discussed trading for him (Angels in particular) have talked of moving him to 3B.

The point is, however, that trading for Tejada would give the Cards some flexibility vis-à-vis the Rolen situation. If the Cards are able to trade Rolen, Tejada slides over to 3B and Izturis becomes the SS. If not, Tejada could play SS next to Rolen. Tejada's decreasing range becomes less important being flanked by Rolen, who is still a very good defensive 3B.

There's been talk of the Angels, Giants, and Astros being interested in Tejada this offseason. In fact, there were rumors at one time that a deal w/ the Astros was very close to being done - Tejada for Chris Burke, Adam Everett, and a top prospect. I never bought it as Burke and Everett don't have a ton of value and the Astros' farm system is one of the worst in baseball. Even if Troy Patton was the prospect, I don't think that's enough for Tejada. So what would it cost the Cards?

Well, Mo intimated that Ryan might be involved. If they do plan to move Tejada to 3B if he stays, they have no natural replacement at SS. They're going to need one. I doubt that Ryan has a ton of value but he is cost-controlled for 6 years - that gives him a leg up over Everett. It makes sense to think they might be interested in Reyes - a young pitcher with some upside who would be under the team's control for 5 years. Would they have interest in Bryan Anderson? Questionable at best. They're talking of trading Ramon Hernandez but their top prospect, Matt Wieters, is a C and is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He should be ready by '09 - about Anderson's time frame.

Rasmus would be off-limits, of course. Rasmus is better than Tejada straight-up. Jaime Garcia's coming off arm surgery and I doubt the O's are very confident in him right now. Chris Perez is a possibility, as is Adam Ottavino. What about Chris Duncan? There's little doubt that the O's could find a spot for Duncan and they'd have him for 5 years. Duncan, Reyes, and Ryan sounds like an awful lot, to me, though. Does Tejada give the Cards that much more of a shot to win the NL in the next 2 years to justify giving up 5 years of Duncan, 5 years of Reyes, and 6 years of Ryan? Not to me. The Cards just aren't that close.

Doesn't taking on the $26 M still owed to Tejada also make it more difficult to swallow some of Rolen's contract in a trade? The Cards' payroll is already at $100 M; Tejada adds $13 in '08 and the Cards still have to add a pitcher or 2. It seems to me that ownership might be more apt to pay Rolen to go away if the payroll is lower than if it's already over $100 M. Maybe I've got it backwards; maybe they'll eat some to keep from swallowing it all but I tend to think it's more likely the reverse. Trading Duncan for Tejada may be more palatable if the team can trade Rolen for a young pitcher. The Catch-22 is that trading Duncan for Tejada makes it more necessary to trade Rolen but probably also less likely.

The O's won't be interested in Rolen - it's an extra year on the contract and he's a year older. The O's need to get younger also and Rolen offers them nothing. If we're going to trade Duncan, I'd much rather see him traded for someone 8-9 years younger than Tejada - either a SP or a SS. Tejada's contract is better than Rolen's to us in that it has 1 less year on it and, IMO, he's more likely to play 280 games over the next 2 years than Rolen is. While he wouldn't be as productive defensively, he should be more productive offensively but it seems the only real value in trading for Tejada is predicated on also trading Rolen. Now, I do think Rolen will be traded - too many bridges have been burned; it's just a matter of what the Cards will receive in the end.

The problem here is the cost of Tejada - Duncan's probably as good a hitter as Tejada is right now and he has 5 more seasons w/ the Cards, as opposed to Tejada's 2. Unless we can package Ottavino (as I'd prefer not to trade Perez) w/ Reyes and Ryan, I'm not sure we have the players to get him. Would they take Ankiel in place of Duncan? That may be something to consider. Even so, it doesn't solve the Cards' biggest problem - too many older players. It's, at best, a band-aid and, at worst, an omen that the talk of an emphasis on player development is just that - talk.