- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Saturday was a typical day in the life of the Oakland Athletics.
All players and coaches dressed by 9:15. Stretching at 9:45 and warm-ups at 10:15. Batting practice from 10:25 to 11:25. Light lunch and individual weightlifting. Game at 1:05. Corporate sponsors party at 7.
Oh, and at 11, time for the semi-annual delivery of bad news with the official announcement that MVP shortstop Miguel Tejada will not be returning to the team next season.
"I just think the world of him but the problem is there is absolutely no possibility we can sign him to a long-term contract,'' Athletics owner Steve Schott said, adding that the team doesn't plan to trade him either. "A small-market team with this (financial) system just can't afford it.''
Nice timing. Four days before the Athletics leave to begin the season in Japan, the owner announces his team will lose an MVP for the second time since 2001. It must have made for some fun conversations at that sponsors party.
Go easy on the appetizers, boys. And remember, that's a no-host bar.
"We could lose two MVPs in two year to the system,'' Schott said. "It sure p----s me off.''
That Oakland won't re-sign Tejada is not particularly surprising. Given the budget constraints -- Oakland had the third lowest payroll in baseball last year and increased it only slightly this season -- everyone knew it was going to be difficult to re-sign him and many people simply assumed it wouldn't happen. Not only did the Athletics not even bother making Tejada a lowball offer -- "I'm not going to insult the guy,'' Schott said -- Tejada hasn't proposed his own contract request, either.
That the Athletics would announce this just before entering a season in which they are considered among the favorites to reach the World Series, however, is interesting. Is it an attempt to keep distractions to a minimum? (If so, good luck.) Is it a reminder to taxpayers that the Athletics want a new stadium? (If so, is a reminder really necessary?) Is it a tactic to get Tejada to make a proposal?
Or is it just a matter of being upfront with everyone?
"Maybe what surprises people is that they're used to the games with the media,'' general manager Billy Beane said. "This is just kind of stating some obvious things. You don't want to be disingenuous with the player and the fact of the matter is that a player of his caliber will receive contract offers beyond our means.''
Tejada declined to say how much money or how many years he would be looking for in a new contract, other than joking that he wouldn't mind a 20-year contract, that he wouldn't require an eight-year deal and that he wouldn't rule out a one or two-year deal.
He appeared to handle the news very well. But why not? He should be used to it by now in Oakland.
"That's business,'' Tejada said. "I really want to stay here and I know it's hard or them to keep me here. I'll keep playing and maybe they'll change their mind.''
That's not likely. This is just business as usual for the Athletics, who lost Jason Giambi to free agency last year, one season after he won the MVP award. Giambi, of course, had replaced Mark McGwire at first base. They also lost outfielder Johnny Damon to free agency last year (though Damon did not come up through their system like Giambi and Tejada) and also let manager Art Howe go last winter.
They keep losing their best people, replacing them with less expensive alternatives and then go on winning more games than the year before. They have increased their win total every season since 1997, an astounding run under any circumstance.
"This organization is more than just one player,'' manager Ken Macha said. "We went through an MVP player moving on and we developed other people. I can't imagine anyone not wanting those (Giambi and Tejada), but the way we're going to survive as an organization is to develop more players.''
That's all well and good but it gets a little frustrating to overcome the loss of an MVP, fight like hell to win a division, come up a little short in the postseason and then learn you're going to have to push that big baseball up the mountain all over again, only with one less person.
"Miguel is just one of those guys you need in your core,'' said third baseman Eric Chavez. "He plays shortstop and he's a five-tool player. But he's too much of a commodity for Oakland.
"For some reason, this is bigger (than Giambi leaving). He's so much at the center of our core. Not that Jason wasn't, but Miguel is so big for us. It's just weird to hear it.''
Of course, it doesn't end with Tejada. Chavez is a free agent after the 2004 season. Tim Hudson will be eligible for free agency the year after that. Barry Zito and Mark Mulder will be eligible the year after that.
At 25, Chavez is two years younger than Tejada (and maybe more) and his potential as a player may be greater. With promising shortstops in the system, Oakland may simply be deciding that Chavez is the better player to build around.
Chavez said he didn't know how Saturday's announcement would affect his situation but that will all play itself out in the future. For now, the Athletics will head into the season with a terrific shortstop, hoping that he can help them to that elusive World Series before they have to say good-bye, put their shoulders to the rock and start pushing uphill again.
"I talked to the team before the game and I said, 'I want to stay with you but that's not my decision,'" Tejada said. "Maybe it will be good for the young kids. Maybe it will give an opportunity for another guy.''
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The fact that the A's do not have the money to sign Miguel Tejada is no surprise.