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December 13, 2007

Prospectus Today

Tejada to Houston, Junk to Baltimore

by Joe Sheehan

The Astros and Orioles perked up a boring week, with nothing going on at all, by completing a five-for-one trade that didn't do a whole lot for either team's chance of eventually making a postseason. The Orioles dealt one of their top chips, a very affordable Miguel Tejada, for a package of five players, none a top prospect.

On merit, the Astros win the trade. I think Troy Patton is a pretty good pitcher, capable of being a mid-rotation starter and possibly even a decent replacement for Erik Bedard down the line. He's come through the system quickly, making his MLB debut just before he turned 22 this past season. However, his strikeout rates took a big hit this season, and he's not a big groundball guy. Add in a fairly slight frame, and I worry that he may not make it through the injury nexus unscathed.

The problem for the Orioles is that Patton is the most valuable piece they got back. There's no real upside in the rest of this package, from back-end starter types in Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate to the same Ron Coomer-looking package Michael Costanzo was a month ago when the Astros got him for Brad Lidge. Other than Patton, there's no one in this trade capable of being a championship-caliber ballplayer. The Orioles saved some money and added depth, but did little to stave off the Devil Rays or advance on the 11 teams better than they are in the AL. It was a waste of a key chip.

Then again, there's nothing that these two teams could have done to turn either of them into a threat. Yesterday afternoon on our internal mailing list, Bryan Smith asked an interesting question: "If these two organizations morphed into one, would they be able to compete in the AL East next year?"

It was a throwaway line, but it got me thinking. I can remember playing in quick-format Strat-O-Matic tournaments where instead of drafting players, you'd draft two teams, then cull down to 25 men for the games. If you did that with the Astros and Orioles, would you have a contender? It wouldn't seem possible to take the top dozen guys off of two teams and not have one, but let's run through the exercise and see what we get. (Note: I actually did this yesterday afternoon, a point that will become relevant as we go through this.)

C: Ramon Hernandez, J.R. Towles
1B: Lance Berkman
2B: Brian Roberts
SS: Miguel Tejada
3B: Melvin Mora
INF reserves: Adam Everett, Aubrey Huff, Kazuo Matsui
LF: Carlos Lee
CF: Hunter Pence
RF: Nick Markakis
OF reserves: Luke Scott, Michael Bourn

That's 14. It's a decent lineup, but a very poor defense. I might even flip Markakis and Pence, because Markakis is a pretty good outfielder, or play Everett at shortstop, Tejada at third base, and then leave Mora off the roster in favor of Mark Loretta. (The more I thought about this, the more I liked it, and would definitely have used that alignment.)

SP: Roy Oswalt, Erik Bedard, Wandy Rodriguez, Troy Patton, Jeremy Guthrie, Daniel Cabrera
RP: Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker, Chad Qualls, Geoff Geary, Oscar Villareal

I was pretty shocked at how bad the bullpen is. Well, it's not "bad," in that it has tactical options, but there's not much power. I would be sorely tempted to make Cabrera a two-inning reliever to improve this pen. There would be a bunch of extra starters lying around waiting to get healthy in Adam Loewen, Hayden Penn, and Brandon Backe.

Does that strike you as a team that could compete in the AL East? Me neither. I could see this team as a favorite of sorts in the NL West, and possibly the NL Central, although the Cubs' addition of Kosuke Fukudome changes that equation a bit. The fact that we can combine these two rosters and not come up with a clear contender-there's no way the Astorioles are one of the top eight teams in baseball, and might not be top-12-is a devastating indictment of both franchises.

It gets worse.

In breaking down the trade on ESPNews yesterday, I put Tejada at third base for the Astros. It seemed the obvious place for him, with only Ty Wigginton there at the moment, and Everett's terrific defense blocking him at shortstop. It never actually occurred to me that the Astros would non-tender Everett, choosing Wigginton at third and a massive defensive downgrade at shortstop.

That's exactly what they did. In a completely inexplicable decision, the Astros declined to offer Everett a contract, leaving them with Tejada's declining range and Wigginton's mediocrity behind a pitching staff that is going to be a below-average strikeout staff.

Everett suffered a broken leg June 13 in Oakland and missed three months of action, but he did return to play in a handful of September games. By almost every metric, including all the play-by-play tools, Everett was the best defensive shortstop in baseball prior to this past season, and in limited action he had good numbers in 2007. He doesn't have the reputation of other players, but he should have won Gold Gloves in 2005 and 2006. He's that good, and the gap between Everett and Tehama is likely 30 runs over a full season in a vacuum, and more for a team whose pitchers will put a tone of balls in play.

By choosing Wigginton over Everett-who was quickly signed by the shortstop-less Minnesota Twins-the Astros gave back a big chunk of the benefit they gained in the trade. They could have had an excellent left side of the infield, with above-average defense and offense. Now they'll have poor defense and good offense, leaving them differently shaped than they were in 2007, but no closer to playing games in October.

One step forward, two steps back. No amount of money will help you if you can't recognize the value of the players you actually see every day, and if Ed Wade wasn't there, someone should have told him. When the Astros are losing 7-6 next year and blaming it on their pitching, while pimping Ty Wigginton's 750 OPS and 52 RBI for an All-Star berth, remember this decision.

--

As a fan of both baseball and due process, let me just say that today is a sad day, a shameful day, and that what we're about to witness is a travesty.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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