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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Tejada is far from a no-brainer for the Cardinals

There is a lot of buzz about soon-to-be free agent infielder Miguel Tejada possibly heading to St. Louis. No one is talking about a major fly in the ointment, however.

As the hot stove league heats up, Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune noted the following about the St. Louis Cardinals in a “Baseball Whispers” article on Sunday.

Miguel Tejada is on their radar as they look to improve at two of three spots among second, short and third.”

This name has been floated in conjunction with the Cardinals a number of times over the years, including at the July trade deadline. Buoyed by the expected return of David Freese, the Cardinals apparently did not make Baltimore an offer for Tejada. The 36-year-old was dealt to the San Diego Padres instead in return for a prospect.

Miguel Tejada (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)Now, with a chance to upgrade over inadequate fill-in Pedro Feliz, the Cardinals may be looking at Tejada again. Even before Rogers’ comment, the name has come up on the personal wish list of Post-Dispatch Cardinals beat writer Joe Strauss in recent weeks.

Tejada does not come without warts, including past issues with age falsification and PED allegations. The biggest challenge may be the decline in stats as his age advances. His .692 OPS in 2010 was his worst as an MLB full-time starter, a stretch that began in 1999.

As his defensive range has declined, Tejada spent more time at third base than his natural shortstop position this past season. The Cardinals are clearly looking for short-term third base insurance for oft-injured Freese while prospects such as Zack Cox and Matt Carpenter work their way toward St. Louis. At short, Tejada could be an offensive pairing with defensive stalwart Brendan Ryan.

Though the right-handed hitting Tejada has never appeared at second base as a major leaguer, I can’t help but wonder if he could become proficient at that position as well. It is a late-career move already made by former Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, Tejada’s teammate in San Diego. This would give the 2011 Cardinals even more flexibility.

Even if all three incumbent infielders were to recover to have standout seasons in 2011, there should be enough at-bats to satisfy Tejada backing up all of them.

The more I think about it, from a fit perspective, I can see why the addition of Tejada would suit the Cardinals well.

Before we march off fat, dumb and happy into the sunset, here is the rub, though, and it is a major one.

Earlier, those in the game of trying to reverse-engineer the Elias Rankings projected Tejada as a Type B free agent. If so, a signing club would not forfeit a draft pick.

That did not turn out to be the case, however. In the real Elias Rankings released last week, Tejada has been classified as a Type A free agent, his ranking perhaps buoyed by having played better with San Diego than with the Orioles. In fact, because of his fit with his new club, some reports have the Padres interested in retaining Tejada for 2011.

If the Cardinals were to move quickly to try to sign Tejada before San Diego has to make the decision whether or not to offer him arbitration, the Cards would automatically forfeit their first-round draft pick next June, tentatively #22 overall.

This prohibitive price from the Cardinals’ perspective would be the same if the Padres eventually do offer arbitration to Tejada and he declines. If the Padres offer arbitration and Tejada accepts, he is off the market. The offer decision date for clubs is November 23.

The Cardinals may have to wait until at least November 30, the date by which players must accept or decline offers of arbitration, to make a formal move on Tejada, while hoping the Padres pass on the opportunity to grab a pair of extra early picks by not offering him.

Further, the Cardinals have no Type A free agents of their own that might be used to replace their first-round pick that would be lost in signing Tejada. With an already-thin group of projected high ceiling prospects, the Cardinals would be especially ill-advised to give up their top draft pick to sign an aging infielder.

In other words, while there may be interest in Tejada from St. Louis, it would be a major surprise to see any action in that area until at least late next month and the chance of it not proceeding at all has increased substantially in recent days.

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