The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
Or maybe it's not.
This column is probably a couple of days late, but I'd still like to address the Oakland A's official announcement that they'll make no effort to re-sign Miguel Tejada after his contract expires at the conclusion of the 2003 season.
OK, so maybe "brilliant" is too strong a word. But among all their options, the A's certainly chose the best option. It was important to get this out of the way, now. Otherwise, the owner and the general manager and the manager and probably the assistant groundskeeper would have been answering stupid questions about Tejada's future every day from today until the day he signed with another team (as for which team, more on that below).
I'm a big believer in something we might call "intellectual capital," and the A's have an abundance of intellectual capital. But if they're spending precious minutes of each day worrying about -- or talking about -- the future of their shortstop, those are minutes that can't be spent thinking about, and solving, problems that can actually be solved.
Sure, one might quibble with owner Steve Schott's decision to spurn Tejada's bright future (though how bright, we won't know until he has to apply for a new work visa and his birth date is checked). Maybe the A's don't draw particularly well because Oakland just isn't a good baseball town, and/or because the A's play in a pretty crummy stadium. But it's also possible that the A's would draw better if they didn't let their big stars get away. So the question is, would Tejada add enough wins to the standings and put enough fannies in the seats to justify something like a $100 million investment?
No, probably not.
So it not only makes sense for the A's to announce that they're not going to re-sign Tejada, it also makes sense for them to not re-sign Tejada.
All the more so when you consider that, according to Baseball America, five of the Athletics' top 30 prospects are shortstops, including No. 3 prospect Bobby Crosby, who played pretty well in Double-A last year. Will Crosby be ready to step into the lineup in 2004? No, probably not. But in the meantime, Mark Ellis could slide over to shortstop, with mid-level prospect Esteban German taking over at second base for at least the short term.
That's little more than speculation. My point is that somebody will play shortstop in 2004, just as somebody played first base in 2002. And that when GM Billy Beane decides he needs a shortstop, he'll go find one. Until then, it would be great if we could all let 1) Tejada play, and 2) leave Billy alone.
And let's be clear about something: While it's certainly "fun" to speculate about Tejada's future employer, history would suggest that it's only idle speculation. I mean, we certainly can predict with some accuracy which teams will not be issuing his hefty paychecks. But the list of teams that might sign Tejada is long enough that we just might be surprised at the uniform he's wearing a year from today.
Four years ago, did anybody think that Alex Rodriguez would become a Ranger? Two years ago, did anybody think that Jim Thome would become a Phillie? Sure, it's not hard to imagine the Yankees signing Tejada (though the notion that Tejada should move to third base so Jeter can continue to sort of play shortstop is laughable, if not sublimely absurd). But there are probably close to a dozen other clubs that might be able to afford Tejada next winter, so we can all find better ways to waste our time than trying to figure out which one it'll be.
Is the sky falling in Oakland? In 2001, with Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen on the roster, the A's won 102 games. In 2002, with Giambi, Damon, and Isringhausen earning $25 million -- for other teams -- the A's won 103 games.
Are the A's going to win 105 games in 2004, with Tejada finally making enough dough to provide for his family?
No, probably not. But anybody who thinks that losing Tejada spells disaster for the Athletics probably hasn't been paying much attention to the standings.
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, appears here regularly during the season. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.