12 December 2007

Diminishing Returns: Miguel Tejada Traded to Astros for a Whole Lotta Nothin'

I guess a former MVP and four-time All-Star doesn't buy what it used to. Must be that Fed Rate Cut.

The Baltimore orioles have reportedly traded shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros for five players, all of whom will be named later. By me. In this article.

I'd do it now, but unless you're an Astros' fan and/or one of their relatives, you've probably never heard of most of them.

Tejada was signed by Baltimore after his age 27 season, i.e. still in his prime, to a 6-year, $72 million contract. He is owed 413 million eac of the next two seasons, plus $2 million each in 2010 and 2011, part of his signing bonus, which will likely be paid by Baltimore. (Thanks, Cot.) In his first season, 2004, he set a Baltimore Orioles record with 150 RBI (the franchise record is 155, held by Ken Williams of the St. Louis Browns, since 1922). He finished 5th in the AL MVP Voting that season, well behind Vlad Guererro of the LAnahfornia Angels, mostly because the Orioles finished 3rd in the AL East, 78-84.

Miggy finished 15th and 20th in the MVP voting the next two years, and dropped off entirely in 2007, mostly because he missed a month with a broken wrist. That ended the 5th longest consecutive games played streak in MLB history, 1152 of them. No active player has as many as 700 consecutive games. Tejada's offensive production has dropped a bit, with an adjusted OPS of 131 in 2004, then 128, then 126, and only 109 in 2007.

He's still a productive hitter, and could likely hit .285 with 25 homers aand a .360 OBP if he got to play all year. Any drop off he'd experience from leaving Camden yards would likely be mitigated by the fact that the NL isn't quite as good as the AL these days, so his numbers won't likely suffer much. Assuming no long-term detrimental effects from the wrist injury, he should bounce back and put up two more solid seasons with the bat, albeit with some normal age-related decline.

But Tejada was atrocious with the glove this year, 15 fielding runs below average according to Baseball Prospectus, 13th in the 14-team AL in Fielding Win Shares among shortstops, according to the Hardball Times. Maybe some of that was the wrist, and he wasn't running as hard or diving as much for fear of re-injuring it, but in any case, it wasn't good.

The Orioles were thinking about moving Tejada to third base before he got hurt, and it's likely that Houston plans to do the same, despite Miggy's wish to stay at short. The Astros have Adam Everett, who can't hit worth a damn, but is the best defensive shorstop in the major leagues. Plus, the Astros don't have a thirdbaseman, unless you count Ty Wigginton, who would best be used as a DH. On a AAA team.

As for the swag from the trade: the Orioles get OF Luke Scott, RHPs Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate, LHP Troy Patton, and minor league 3B Michael Costanzo.

Luke Scott: Scott hit .286/.363/.603 with 31 homers in a full season at AAA in 2005, then parlayed a .299/.400/.541 in 2006 into a promotion to the big leagues, where he was even better, hitting .336 with 10 homers in 65 games. He started out a little pull-happy in 2007 and his batting average suffered, but finished strong, hitting .296 after the All-Star Break after hitting just .226 in the first half. He won't be 30 until the end of June, and is only in his 3rd major league season, so he should be a solid and affordable outfielder for a few years, hitting .270ish with power and patience through his arbitration years. Not a superstar, by any means, but then Tejada's not going to be either.

Matt Albers: Albers has only brief stints in the majors, but at age 24, has been in the minor leagues for six years. His experience in AAA th elast two years is also brief, as he's been in the major league bullpen much of that time, but when he did pitch, in 13 starts he had a 3.81 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 78 innings, but also 32 walks. Before that, he dominated AA as a 23-year old in 2006, with a 2.17 ERA in 19 starts (116 innings), including 95 strikeouts and 47 walks. He was more dominant at the lower levels, but no longer strikes out a batter or more per inning, which means he can't allow all those walks without eventually paying for them. He also found it much harder to prevent homers in the majors, allowing 18 of them in 2007 in only 110 innings of work.

He's young still, but he's going to a hitter-friendly park in a better league, and he's probably going to have to do two of the following three things to have any success: cut the homer rate in half, cut the walks per game in half, or start striking out a batter per inning again. Even if he manages one of those, it would only get his ERA down to something like 4.75 or so.

Troy Patton: Patton has the most upside among the players acquired in the trade, if only because he's young and left-handed. He was listed as the Astros' 3rd best prospect by BAseball America last spring, but that was before his so-so 2007 campaign.

He thorws in the mid-90's (or at least he did when he was drafted) with good control (the best in the Astros' minor league organization, according to Baseball America), and is very young, having just turned 22 in September. He's only got two starts in the majors, and for that matter, only eight starts in AAA, so the Orioles will likely give him a chance to win a major league job this spring, but if not, there's no rush. It's not like he's the difference between them finishing 4th or beating out the Yanks and Sox for the AL East crown.

Patton's strikeout rate has been steadily decreasing since he's been a pro, from almost 11 per nine Innings Pitched in the Sally League in 2005, down to 9/9IP in High A in 2006, then a little over 7/9IP in AA, then down to just under 6/9IP in AA this year, and finally about 4.6/9IP in AAA before his major league call-up. So his star has dimmed a bit, and if he loses any more of that, he'll flop in the majors. You just can't come into the majors as a youngster with an average stirkeout rate and expect to succeed, not unless everything else goes perfectly, and it almost never does. He could still have a career, hopefullt as something more than a LOOGy, but I'd be concerned about an injury at this point, if I were the Astros' GM.

Dennis Safarte: A big righty (6'4", 210 lbs), Safarte was doing OK as a starter in the Brewers' system, with high walk rates, but also high strikeout rates and low hit-rates to counter them. The Brewers convverted him to relief last year, and then sold him to Houston, who used him in relief in seven games, wherein he basically blew everyone away, allowing only one run in 8.1 total innings, whiffing 14 and walking only (get this...) one. The Orioles apparently convinced themselves that Safarte had "turned a corner", or something like that, preferring to look at these two weeks of near perfect work and ignore the seven years worth of evidence suggesting that he's probably going to walk about two batters per inning in the majors, if they give him enough chances. He'll be 27 in April, and he's cheap, and the Orioles aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so he's worth a look, but don't expect the second coming of Tippy Martinez, much less Gregg Olson.

Michael Costanzo: Not to be confused with George from Seinfeld, Constanzo is a big boy (6'3", 215) with a big arm and a big swing. He had been part of the Brad Lidge trade and played for Philadelphia's AA team in Reading this year. A pitcher in college, he has the best-rated arm in the Astros farm system, but despite that, Costanzo is not thought to be a gread defensive player, having made 34 errors this year in 137 games at the Hot Corner. His 27 homers led Reading and were second best in the Eastern League, though his 157 whiffs led the league. He's got some patience, with 75 walks, but with such a penchant for striking out, it's unlikely he'll be able to hit much over .240 in the big leagues.

Lots of power, some patience, strong arm, lots of strikeouts...sound familiar?

Costanzo reminds me of Russell Branyan, except that when he was in AA, back in 1998, Branyan was even more patient, even more powerful AND a year younger. Branyan has bounced around to eight different major league teams, and hasn't even gotten 400 plate appearances in a season with one of them. Costanzo is likely going to be moved to the outfield (if he can demonstrate that he's got the range for it) or to first base or DH, assuming he ever gets to the majors. He's got a little time, but will be 24 next year, and if he doesn't cut down on the errors, the strikeouts or both, without losing the homers, he'll never make it. Also, he can't hit left-handed pitching at all.

In total, the Houston Astros got themselves an expensive, but productive, aging star, and they gave up five players of marginal quality. Scott should be a "useful regular" for a few years, and he looks like he might be the best of the bunch. Patton was once a top prospect, but the more he pitches, the less he looks like one. Albers is seeing his top prospect sheen come off a little too, after pitching badly as a starter in the majors and then even worse as a reliever. He's got a lot of work to do just to reach mediocrity. Sarfate is as likely to bean the mascot as he is to pitch 50 solid innings out of a major league bullpen next year. Costanzo looks like Russ Branyan-lite. Looks to me like the Orioles didn't get much for their marquee player.

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