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 BALTIMORE (AP) -The Baltimore Orioles weren't going to be contenders in 2008, with or without Miguel Tejada.
So, casting an eye toward the future, club president Andy MacPhail traded the standout shortstop to the Houston Astros on Wednesday for five players who could develop into key contributors when the Orioles are finally ready to compete with the big boys in the AL East.
Outfielder Luke Scott is perceived to be an upgrade from Jay Payton in left field, and 24-year-old Matt Albers pitched in 31 games for the Astros this season. Pitchers Troy Patton and Dennis Sarfate have little experience but considerable potential, and third baseman Mike Costanzo has the distinction of being rated the sixth-best prospect in the Houston organization by Baseball America.
When it came time to sign off on his most significant trade since becoming president of baseball operations last June, MacPhail looked well past 2008.
``It was a function of trying to add as many talented young players as I could possibly get for a very talented player today, to help somebody win now,'' he said. ``In exchange, I hope to get enough talent back to where I can win a little bit later.''
Tejada had 18 homers and 81 RBIs last season, numbers that represented a drop off from previous years but still ranked among the Orioles team leaders. MacPhail hopes Scott, who had 19 homers and 64 RBIs in 2007, can help make up the difference.
``We are going to lose offense at short, there's no question about that. But we think we're going to pick up offense in left field when Scott goes out there, at the very least against right-handed pitching,'' MacPhail said. ``We think Luke is one of the undervalued assets.''
The Orioles went 69-93 with Tejada in 2007 - their 10th straight losing season - so what did they have to lose?
As it stands now, Baltimore's new shortstop will likely be Luis Hernandez, who showed good range at the position last season and hit a solid .290. Other prospects are Freddie Bynum and Brandon Fahey, although MacPhail spoke about possibly going outside the organization to fill the void.
Baltimore's next shortstop likely won't hit as well as Tejada, but probably will have more range in the field. That works for manager Dave Trembley, who wholeheartedly approved the trade.
``I called Miguel and thanked him for his time here,'' Trembley said in a phone interview. ``But now is the time to start building with pitching and defense.''
Pitching was the downfall of the Orioles last season. They lost several pitchers to injuries, received inadequate performances from several others and finished second-to-last in the AL with a 5.17 ERA.
There's no guarantee Patton, Albers and Sarfate will change all that, but the more options Trembley has, the better chance he has of finding someone to fill out the staff.
``The pitching help was essential. You can't have enough pitching,'' MacPhail said. ``You can do all the analysis you can do, but you have to work with numbers. To get 10 solid pitchers, you have to have about 25 stocked up in the inventory, and this move certainly helps us there in that regard.''
The trade served notice that the Orioles aren't going to seek to add short-term help to mount a charge at Boston and the New York Yankees in 2008. Rather, the focus is on stockpiling young talent and hope those players mature quickly.
That means the veterans on the club, such as 36-year-old reliever Jamie Walker, will have to endure at least another year of losing.
``I understand that they have to build the minor league system up,'' Walker said. ``Does it frustrate me a little? Yeah, but is it the owner's fault? No. We weren't spring chickens last year, and we didn't win. Sometimes you have to take a few steps backward to move forward.''
MacPhail didn't rule out the possibility of taking an identical stride in the weeks ahead.
``I think there's some other things we'd still like to do, but you have to evaluate these on a case-by-case basis,'' he said. ``I think this transaction fit into our basic parameters. We have said for some time that we're the type of club that has to find the right partner, somebody that's anxious to win now and will give up talent in the future to accomplish their goal.''
It will be some time before the Orioles can determine the worth of this deal, but they hope they won't have to wait long.
``Today's trade helps not only for 2008, but also for years beyond,'' Trembley said. ``We're trying to build with as many good players as we can, and this gives us depth. Anytime you can get depth and quality, it says something about the direction you want to go.''
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