"I love Miggy," said Brian Roberts. "We weren't getting rid of Miggy because he's a bad guy or because he wasn't living up to his contract. It was just the best thing for our organization at the time. Now it's kind of 360 degrees, right back to where we were."
Tejada, who played with the Orioles from 2004-07, is coming back a different player. The veteran has gone to the All-Star Game in each of the past two seasons, but he registered an on-base percentage and a slugging mark below his career norms last season. Tejada will also be moving from shortstop to third base, ceding his former position to Cesar Izturis.
The Orioles had said all winter that they needed to add a third baseman, but Tejada's name usually didn't get beyond the rumor stage. Sources close to the team confirm that the six-time All-Star has agreed to a one-year deal, but Andy MacPhail, the team's president of baseball operations, was still speaking about the transaction as a hypothetical on Saturday morning.
"We have made, just recently, significant progress," MacPhail said in reference to signing a corner infielder. "We don't have anything finalized yet, but we're pretty confident we'll have something within a matter of days."
MacPhail could say that because the two sides are still waiting on Tejada's physical examination to make the deal official. Moments later, MacPhail was asked what he learned about Tejada from canvassing his team.
"I do know that Miggy was a very popular teammate," he said. "I know that because Brian volunteered it, and I did ask Brian. Then you talk to other people that have been around -- coaches, trainers -- and plus I had the opportunity to be around Miggy for the half-year I was here in 2007. ... I talked to him about moving off short and he didn't think it was time. He went to the National League after I traded him there and was the All-Star shortstop for two years. Who's to say Miggy wasn't right?"
Tejada is perhaps best known for holding the fifth-longest consecutive games played streak in baseball history, a run of 1,152 straight games without missing a beat. The veteran's historic streak was snapped during the 2007 season courtesy of a fastball that hit him and broke a bone in his left wrist. Amazingly, Tejada had played in 162 games for six straight seasons.
Tejada, who was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2002, came to the Orioles in '04 by virtue of a six-year contract worth $72 million. He then starred for Baltimore for four seasons before he was ultimately dealt to Houston. The Orioles received Luke Scott, Dennis Sarfate and Matt Albers in that deal, and then spent two years looking for another shortstop.
And even as they struggled to replace him, the Orioles rarely referenced Tejada and how he could help the team. The native of the Dominican Republic ran into some off-field adversity while with Houston, most notably being named in the Mitchell Report and getting caught in an age-gate scandal. Still, despite those problems, his former teammates will greet him with open arms.
"If there's anybody in baseball you'd want on your team, it's him," said right fielder Nick Markakis, saluting the Tejada acquisition. "He's got high energy and he wants to win every day. He goes out there and he plays every day. He had that streak going when he was with us in 2007. Unfortunately he got hit by a ball and broke his hand, but he wants to be out there every day and those are the kinds of guys you want on your team. I can't wait for Spring Training just to see him."
"To tell you the truth, before I talked to you guys earlier, I couldn't remember why people said he left on a bad note," added Roberts. "I think this city knows what Miggy did for this team and this organization. He was one of the first guys to come here and take a big contract, be a big-name free agent and say, 'I want to help rebuild this team and this organization.' I don't think he did anything to detract from that. He played in All-Star games. He drove in 150 runs one year. He got 200 hits every year. He did what he came here to do -- it's just that the rest of our organization wasn't at the point where we were ready to succeed at that time."
"If there's anybody in baseball you'd want on your team, it's [Miguel Tejada]."
-- Nick Markakis
Ty Wigginton, who played with Tejada in Houston, also raved about what he's like as a teammate. And manager Dave Trembley, who only had Tejada for his first half-season on the job, is looking forward to having him back.
"I would say this about Tejada: I don't think there's ever been a guy that wants to win more than Tejada," said Trembley, who knows his team will need a competitive jolt in 2010. "The guy has a very, very strong passion to win. The guys on the team love him. I never had a problem with him, and if it works out that he comes back here, I think it would be a real good acquisition."
Tejada hasn't hit 20 home runs since the 2006 season and hasn't scored 100 runs since 2004, but hitting coach Terry Crowley still sees a veteran with tools. Tejada hit .313 last year and has hit .296 or better in five of the last six seasons, and Crowley said that he probably still has a lot left in the tank, even if he's about to turn 36 late in May.
"I'm not worried about that," said Crowley of Tejada's age-related decline. "He's always been a good hitter, and if he has slowed down, he's got plenty of room to still be a good hitter. I think it's all about making him comfortable with this team. The guys look up to him, and I know he's close with Brian and Nicky. It's going to be a good get if we end up getting him."
Juan Samuel, the team's third-base coach and infield instructor, said he didn't think it would be difficult to transition Tejada from shortstop to the hot corner. In fact, there's just one tricky issue regarding Tejada's return, and it should be easy to work out.
"I'm excited, but the only thing is this number issue," said Adam Jones, who wears Tejada's familiar No. 10. "I hope he doesn't take my number. But I respect the game enough, and if he wants it, it's his. I want a Rolex, but if he wants it, it's his."