Tejada Packs His Bags For Houston

The Deal
The Orioles first explored the idea of trading veteran shortstop Miguel Tejada in the 2005 offseason—after he’d requested a trade through the media—but ultimately resisted strong overtures by the Angels, among other teams. They finally pulled the trigger Dec. 12, sending him to the Astros for five players: righthanders Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate, lefthander Troy Patton, third baseman Mike Costanzo and outfielder Luke Scott.

The Big Leaguers
Tejada, who turns 32 next May, hit .296/.357/.442 with 18 home runs for the Orioles in 2007, his least productive year of his four in Baltimore. Though still capable, Tejada’s offensive and defensive value has declined steadily each year since signing his six-year, $72 million deal for the 2004 season. In fact, he’s now widely viewed as a third baseman in waiting, though the Astros are indicating they’ll keep him at short. Signed by the Athletics out of the Dominican Republic in 1993, Tejada has batted .287/.344/.477 with 258 homers and 1,033 RBIs in 11 big league seasons. He won the 2002 AL MVP award for hitting .308/.354/.508 with 34 home runs and 131 RBIs for the AL West-winning A’s. Tejada is owed $13 million in each of the final two years of his deal.

Albers, 25, has No. 3 starter potential but has failed to put all the pieces together thus far, perhaps because of a lack of focus and tough-to-repeat mechanics. At his best, he works consistently at 93-94 mph with his two-seam fastball and touches 97 with his four-seamer. Albers shows fair to good command of a hard curveball and changeup. A draft-and-follow from San Jacinto (Texas) JC in 2001, Albers won Double-A Texas League pitcher of the year honors in 2006, going 10-2, 2.17 in 116 innings. He struggled in an extended big league trial last season, going just 4-11, 5.86 with 71-50 K-BB in 111 innings.

Scott, 29, has performed well in two seasons as a part-timer for the Astros, and the lefthanded hitter owns a .276/.364/.534 career line against big league righthanders. A ninth-round pick of the Indians from Oklahoma State in 2001, Scott batted .255/.351/.504 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs in 369 at-bats in 2007. The Indians traded him to the Astros for lefty Jeriome Robertson in spring training 2004. Scott doesn’t offer much in the way of defense, speed or arm strength, but he hits for power to all fields and commands the strike zone. He’s a career .273/.366/.516 hitter in 231 games.

The Prospects
Patton, 22, shows exceptional poise and command of three pitches, making him a safe bet to achieve No. 3 starter status. A ninth-round pick from a Texas high school in 2004, Patton’s two-seam fastball ranges from 88-92 mph and he commands it to both sides of the plate. He employs a hard slider and changeup as secondary pitches. Though Patton has missed time with shoulder trouble in each of the past three seasons, he’ll be ready for spring training. He went 10-8, 3.51 with 94-44 K-BB in 151 innings at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock in 2007, and closed the year with three big league appearances.

Costanzo, 24, joins his third team this offseason, having been traded from the Phillies to the Astros in November. He finished runner-up in the Double-A Eastern League’s home run race with 27, employing a big, pull-happy swing that contributed to an EL-leading 157 strikeouts. Costanzo will take his walks, though, and he batted .270/.368/.490 for Reading. As he had in 2006, Costanzo heated up in August this year, batting .364/.445/.607 for the month. Some scouts believe Costanzo, a second-round pick form Coastal Carolina in 2005, is a first baseman in waiting.

Sarfate, 27, consistently throws in the 93-96 mph range but has little success to show for his velocity. He signed with the Brewers after they drafted him in the ninth round of the 2001 draft from Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) CC, but made his way to the Astros in September 2007 in a cash transaction. Sarfate moved to the bullpen during the 2006 season, but the same fastball and curveball command issues have plagued him whether in the rotation or bullpen. He doesn’t use his changeup in relief. Sarfate went 2-7, 4.52 with 68-47 K-BB in 62 innings for Triple-A Nashville in 2007.

Quick Take
Houston’s reconfigured offense stands to outperform last year’s edition with the additions of Tejada, second baseman Kazuo Matsui (free agent) and center fielder Michael Bourn (trade)—not to mention full years from right fielder Hunter Pence and catcher J.R. Towles. Coupled with first baseman Lance Berkman, one of the league’s best hitters, and left fielder Carlos Lee, one of its most consistent, Tejada gives the Astros three veteran hitters with which to battle for supremacy in the wide-open NL Central.

While the Orioles didn’t get a frontline prospect in exchange for the final two years of Tejada’s deal, they did add rotation depth, with upside, in the form of Albers and Patton—not to mention an accomplished power bat in Scott.

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