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Sunday, December 14, 2003
Updated: December 16, 1:15 PM ET
Deal reportedly worth $72 million

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Luis Aparicio. Mark Belanger. Cal Ripken.

Fantasy Focus
With four consecutive 100-RBI seasons under his belt, it is fair to call Miguel Tejada one of fantasy's top five shortstops heading into the '04 season. That isn't likely to change now that he heads to Baltimore. If his value does change, it will probably be for the better. For the past three seasons, Tejada has hit nearly 40 points worse at Network Associates Coliseum than on the road. Oakland is generally considered to have one of the worst hitter's parks in the league. A move to a more offensive-friendly Camden Yards should give Tejada's bat a boost -- he has hit .319 there since '01. Tejada generally hit third or fourth for the A's last season and should be in the middle of an Orioles lineup that could also include free agents Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez and/or Javy Lopez. It would be fair for fantasy owners to expect at least a .290, 30 HR, 100 RBI season out of Tejada. Draft accordingly.
-- Brandon Funston
And now, Miguel Tejada.

The Baltimore Orioles added another star shortstop to an already impressive line on Sunday when they signed the former AL MVP to the longest and richest contract of the offseason so far.

"The cornerstone of the Orioles through the years has been our shortstops," said Baltimore vice president Mike Flanagan, a former teammate of both Belanger and Ripken. "And he certainly fits in that mold."

Tejada got a six-year, $72 million deal, according to contract information obtained by The Associated Press. Tejada must pass a physical to finalize the contract.

The St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles in 1954, and from 1963-97 their shortstop position was manned almost exclusively by Aparicio, Belanger and Ripken. Tejada could take them through 2009.

"I know I'm going to play on the same field where Cal Ripken played and be in the same locker room where Cal Ripken was," Tejada said. "I love the city and the stadium."

The Orioles might not be done. They need a catcher and an outfielder, and they have shown interest in free agents Vladimir Guerrero and either Ivan Rodriguez or Javy Lopez.

"We have other players that are big players that we want to add to the club," vice president Jim Beattie said. "This is a signal -- one of the things we can do to show players that the Orioles are ready to contend, hopefully quickly."

Tejada wouldn't mind setting a trend.

"Whoever comes with me to the Baltimore Orioles, we're going to try to have a winning team," Tejada said. "I know it's a young team. We'll play hard."

Tejada, 27, was the MVP in 2002 when he hit .308 with 34 home runs and 131 RBI in 2002 to help the A's win 103 games and the AL West. But last year he slumped to a .278 average with 27 homers and 106 RBI, striking out 65 times and drawing 53 walks.

"How many chances do you get to add an MVP-caliber player to your club who wants to be there for a long time?" new Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said.

The Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers had also expressed interest in Tejada. But Baltimore saw him as a key to improving its lot in the AL East, where it has finished next-to-last for six consecutive years, trailing the New York Yankees, Boston and Toronto.

Boston and New York have each made major moves this winter, and the Blue Jays have made several smaller moves to improve their pitching.

"You can't play dumb to the surroundings of what's going on around you," Mazzilli said. "But we have to think about our team."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who was a bench coach with Tejada and Oakland last season, said the reigning AL MVP may have slumped under the extra pressure early last season. But Tejada never let it bother him, or affect his work ethic, Francona said.

"Our division got tougher," Francona said. "Part of that's 'cause he's there."

Tejada receives a $12 million signing bonus, with $4 million payable in 2004 and $2 million each in 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2011.

He receives yearly salaries of $3 million in 2004, $9 million in 2005, $10 million in 2006, $12 million in 2007, $13 million in 2008 and $13 million in 2009.

Tejada made $5 million last season and $3.65 million in 2002.

It is the second major free agent to leave Oakland in as many days. The A's said they couldn't afford both Tejada and closer Keith Foulke; they wound up losing both of them.

"They were two pretty major parts of our team last year, so it's definitely been a tough weekend," A's second baseman Mark Ellis said from his Phoenix-area home. "We'll still be good as long as have that pitching staff. But it definitely hurts to lose them.

"We all knew we were going to lose Miguel -- it was kind of a foregone conclusion. Keith Foulke would have been great to keep as our closer.