Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
Can Miguel Tejada rebound in Houston?
Miguel Tejada isn't ancient. ... It only seems that way. He has more official major league at-bats than the 37-year-old Jason Giambi and has played in more games than the 35-year-old Cliff Floyd or 40-year-old Matt Stairs.
But since when is 31 years old an age to expect a decline? It's not as if Tejada is out of shape now, although some would argue, with the Mitchell Report as their tool, that he was in a little better shape a few years ago, if you know what I mean. But the point is that age is not a factor here. Not only is 31 not an age to expect a decline, but many big leaguers are still hanging on to their prime.
Miguel Tejada is not still in his prime. Then again, we're talking about a player whose prime earned him an AL MVP award in 2002 and near-first-round draft status (he was picked around the 12th or 13th spot in most 5x5 leagues) just three short years ago after putting up a .311-34-150 season in 2004. And how did he follow that? With two more fine seasons (.304-26-98 in 2005 and .330-24-100 in 2006) and playing every game.
Then, in 2007, the Orioles fell apart, winning fewer than 70 games for the first time since 2002, and Tejada fell apart with them. He was clicking along pretty well, batting .306 with 41 RBIs, albeit with another slight power dip, when he was hit by a high and inside pitch. The pitch fractured his left wrist, forced him to the DL for the first time in his career and ended an impressive consecutive games played streak at 1,152, the fifth-longest in major league history.
Tejada didn't handle his first DL trip too gracefully. First, he tried to hit a day after breaking the wrist to keep his consecutive games streak alive. He bunted into a fielder's choice, then was pulled for a pinch runner. Then, no more than a week of sitting out, he was telling reporters he was itching to get back sooner rather than later and would make record time on his return. He was circling dates on the calendar and telling team officials he'd like to return for those days, wrist injury be damned. Finally, he headed out on a rehab assignment July 25, cutting what many doctors or trainers would consider a six-week injury down to five weeks.
That says a lot about Tejada and his durability. The guy truly loves playing the game, and you can bet he's not going to let a little ol' calf pull or sore shoulder keep him from playing it. And the wrist injury reportedly has healed nicely and shouldn't be a factor anymore.
So it's not his age, and it's not doubts about his health ... What could the reason be for Tejada not only falling outside the Top 50 in average draft position, but also falling all the way to No. 66? Frankly, I don't know.
Perhaps owners have questions about a possible suspension related to the Mitchell Report. By all accounts, that won't happen, at least this season. He might face a federal probe, but there are no obvious signs that he's in imminent danger with the federal courts. Even if he was, nothing happens quickly in the federal justice system.
So maybe it's the move to the NL? If that's it, it shouldn't be. First of all, AL pitching percentage categories (ERA, WHIP, BAA) were only slightly higher than the NL in 2007, and secondly, the AL East has much tougher pitching staffs than the NL Central. Consider that Tejada's AL East opponents (obviously excluding Baltimore) had a 4.57 ERA as a group, and that was inflated by Tampa Bay's league-worst 5.53 mark. The AL East also had Boston and Toronto, two of the top three pitching staffs in the majors. The Astros' opponents in the NL Central, meanwhile, had a composite ERA of 4.59, and only the division-winning Cubs ranked better than 15th.
So maybe it's the ballpark? Granted, Camden Yards in Baltimore appeared to be much more favorable for both homers and runs in 2007 than Houston's Minute Maid Park, but the indexes are about the same in 2006, and Minute Maid was much more favorable in 2005, so we'll call that a wash. What isn't a wash is that Houston has the short Crawford boxes in left field, which is extremely favorable for right-handed pull hitters, which Tejada is. We'll slant the ballpark in Houston's favor.
Maybe it's the "down" 2007 season? Well, there is that. He had fewer home runs (18) and RBIs (81) than he had had in a season since 1998. But he also played his lowest number of games in a season since then. Consider that he missed 29 games because of that wrist injury. If you projected his numbers with the same at-bats he had in 2006 (jumping them from 514 to 648), he would have finished with 23 homers and 102 RBIs. That's a lot more palpable.
Also consider that he hit .255 with just one homer and 12 RBIs in September, which obviously pulled his final numbers down. Now, his numbers have tended to dip in September in recent seasons, so this can't be disregarded. However, I think something else was at play here to make them dip even more. Tejada was unhappy in Baltimore, tired of losing and already talking of finding a new home. On Sept. 20, he told a Baltimore Sun reporter, "I put up good numbers every year and we still lost. I don't know [what] we got to do." That's a player who was frustrated and probably feeling like he had the weight of the city and the team on his shoulders. A fresh start in Houston should do him some good, as should having Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee hitting in front of him. (The latest report from Houston camp is that Tejada will bat fifth.)
Everything, and I mean everything, points to the plus side for Tejada in his new situation, and yet we as a collective group have pooh-poohed his draft value. We're taking him 66th, two spots after 38-year-old closer Takashi Saito and three spots after Adam Dunn, an outfielder with a career .248 average.
This is a classic case of owners comparing a player with himself. Compared with the "old" Miguel, Tejada's 2007 numbers were a real disappointment. But thanks to the many factors above, we still have him projected to hit .309 with 26 homers and 104 RBIs. Since when is a shortstop with numbers like that, or potentially better, available in the middle of the sixth round of a 12-team mixed draft?
He shouldn't be, folks. You liked Tejada three years ago, and you should still like him now. He should be taken not one but two rounds earlier, maybe midway through the fourth round, right about the time owners are looking at Troy Tulowitzki -- who, by the way, we have projected will finish with fewer homers and RBIs and a batting average that is 21 points below Tejada's.
Somebody in your league knows this already, and if you want Tejada -- and you should -- don't expect to see him there when your seventh-round pick rolls around.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.