After stumbling around the infield and putting up a 596 OPS for the Giants in 2011, Tejada had a similarly poor performance in just 151 Triple-A plate appearances in 2012. He then played seven so-so games in the World Baseball Classic and batted .333 in 36 plate appearances (albeit with one walk and just four extra-base hits, all doubles) in spring training; that was apparently good enough for the Royals to add him to their Opening Day roster as a utility infielder.
It's going to be hard to find a more unlikely roster decision than this one. By either Baseball Reference's or Fangraphs' method, Tejada was last worth more than a full win above replacement back in the 2009 season, when a large number of players who will play major roles in 2013 were still in high school. Tejada will turn 39 in May, and hardly has the profile of a successful utility infielder, who are usually versatile and talented defenders from whom any offense is a bonus; he's continued to play shortstop sporadically, but probably hasn't had the range to do it well since something like 2006, and at this point he's probably a net zero at best at any other infield position. It's not as though he's likely to make up for it with his bat, either, after his 61 wRC+/69 OPS+ showing in 2011. That's before taking into account that he's aged a year since he did any of those things at the highest level. His not-terrible March aside, there's just no reason to believe that Tejada has anything to offer a big-league ballclub at this point.
So one would be tempted to assume the Royals are keeping the former MVP around for his veteran presence, leadership and so forth. I've seen no indication that that's the case, though, and Tejada has (rightly or wrongly) never had a reputation as that sort of guy, and he's been connected (tangentially, but tangential connections seem usually to be enough for most people) to PEDs. I don't know Tejada or have any idea what kind of teammate he is, but it's unlikely they see him in the player-coach role that Omar Vizquel filled on so many teams for seemingly twenty years. It's not as though Tejada is a box-office draw at this point, either.
Photo credit: Christian Petersen
It's not the kind of move that'll make or break a team, but Tejada is set to be paid $1.1 million (up to $1.5 million with "performance bonuses") in Royals money that he won't earn, and is likely to take at least some playing time away from younger, better players that he won't deserve. It just doesn't appear to make sense on any level.
Here are four more surprising opening day roster decisions:
Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
Bradley played brilliantly in High- and Double-A last season and even more brilliantly this spring, is a top-40 prospect on every major list, and will turn 23 in under three weeks, so it's certainly not a huge surprise to see Bradley play a significant role in 2013. The surprise is seeing him 2013 on the roster, rather than waiting the 11 days or so that would be required to push his clock back a year and permit the Red Sox to keep him for essentially seven seasons rather than six. He'll be starting these early-April games over a number of unexciting but reasonable alternatives, including Daniel Nava, Mike Carp and Ryan Sweeney. Bradley is likely to hugely outperform all those guys eventually, of course, but far from a guarantee to do it right away. His fantastic defense does give him a leg up in that goal, however.
Bay, like Tejada, was last a useful player in 2009 and has been rapidly declining ever since. Bay hit well enough in spring training, apparently well enough to lead the Mariners to choose him over the slumping Casper Wells. The case for Wells over Bay is laid out awfully well here; suffice it to say that the Mariners, a team already chock full of guys whose sole position should probably be designated hitter, have chosen another such player, and one who is 34 years old and who last hit well enough to justify starting at DH four full years ago.
It's a similar story with Hicks -- who will be Minnesota's starting center fielder on Monday afternoon -- as with Bradley. The differences are that where the Red Sox have reasons to think they might not be terrible in 2013 and that injuries have forced their hand, the Twins have every reason to think they will be non-competitors in 2013, and have able-bodied and less valuable pieces (most notably Darin Mastroianni) who could well have filled in for a few weeks. It'll be fun to see what Hicks can do, but it would have been equally fun three or four weeks from now, keeping him under team control for another year at a time the Twins might really need him.
A first-round pick in 2011, this is Fernandez's age-20 season. He had a fantastic 2012, but ended it at High-A; he's a top prospect and has number-one starter upside, but there's little reason to think he's anywhere close to that yet. I tend to think that service time is less of a concern for pitchers, who I'd get as much use of as I can once they're ready; the issue here is why they think he's ready. No doubt he needs to be challenged after posting a 1.75 ERA across two levels in 2012, but Double-A would likely be a significant challenge itself; only three pitchers appeared in the entire Double-A Southern League in 2012 at age 20 or younger, all top prospects like Fernandez (Tyler Skaggs, Taijuan Walker, and Zach Lee). Starting him in the majors instead sounds like the kind of thing a franchise would do once it's totally alienated its fan base and is desperate to generate any kind of excitement at all. Why would the Marlins need to do something like that?