SURPRISE, Ariz. — Miguel Tejada, at 38, is 11 years removed from his American League 2002 Most Valuable Player award as he dons a Royals’ uniform for spring workouts.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Say this much, though: He sure appears fit after resurrecting his career with a strong winter-ball campaign that convinced the Royals to offer a minor-league contract with the promise of a genuine opportunity to win a big-league job as a utility player.
“Putting on his uniform,” manager Ned Yost said, “he looked good. Now that’s he on the field, we’ll be able to determine a little bit more. Let’s take a look at him.”
If nothing else, Tejada said all the right things Saturday after arriving one day late to camp because a stomach illness delayed his departure from the Dominican Republic.
“When they called me and said they’d love to have me here,” he said, “I said, `yes’ right away because I’ve always liked the white-and-blue in Kansas City. It’s a special thing because there are a lot of young guys here.
“Playing with a lot of young guys will make me younger every day.”
Here’s the key: Tejada affirmed he is fully aware the Royals view him as a utility player, which should please club officials who thought they made that clear last year to Yuniesky Betancourt before learning he believed otherwise.
“I know that’s going to be my role,” Tejada said, “and I’m going to prepare every day to do my job. I came here to help in any way the manager wants me to help. I’m going to be ready every day.”
That means everyone appears to be on the same page because Yost reiterated Saturday the battle for second base – the lineup’s only contested position – projects as a two-man competition between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella.
“At this point,” Yost said, “I see that one of those two guys is going to be able to handle that position. The other guys – (Christian) Colón, Tejada, (Brandon) Wood, (Elliot) Johnson, (Irving) Falu – are going to be utility-type guys. They can play everywhere.”
Tejada primarily played shortstop – 1,946 games – throughout a 15-year career with five clubs. His resume shows 141 games at third base and only four at second base, although he played second a lot this winter.
He has never played first base in the big leagues.
“If you’ve played short,” Tejada said, “I think you can play any position. One thing that’s good about me playing second is you don’t have to go so far and make a long throw. I practiced a lot at second base, and I think I’m ready to go.”
Tejada hasn’t played in the majors since batting .239 with four homers and 26 RBIs in 91 games for San Francisco in 2011. He signed a minor-league deal last year with Baltimore but asked for his release in June after playing 36 games at Class AAA Norfolk.
“They told me one thing,” he said, “and, after a couple of weeks, they said something else. I just thanked them for the opportunity and asked them to let me go. It didn’t work out. That’s OK, I just went back home, took time off and worked hard.”
Tejada decided to try again this winter by playing for Aguilas in his native Dominican Republic. The Royals liked what they saw.
“He swung the bat real well,” Yost said. “His bat speed was there. He played adequately at all of the infield positions. We got good reports on (him having) great makeup, great clubhouse presence.”
That clubhouse presence was no small part of what the Royals liked.
“You need a veteran guy in that role,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “who is willing to do that role and understands that’s his role. I like what he brings. He’s a high-energy guy. I think he fits.
“He can play all four infield positions. He knows the role. It’s been communicated to him what the role is. What we told him was there are no guarantees, but we want it to happen. You’ve got to do your part. Stay healthy.”
Tejada is in camp as a non-roster invite but is in line to make $1.1 million if he makes the club and remains in the big leagues for the entire season. His deal also contains $400,000 in possible performance bonuses.
“I think my body is fresh after taking a year off,” he said “I worked hard (to get in shape), and I feel like my body is 20 years old now. This year is going to be different because I’m going to be playing every position. And I’m ready.”
And, yes, he’s convinced he can still help a big-league club.
“Obviously, that’s why I signed and why I’m here,” Tejada said. “They have a lot of young guys here, and that’s a great thing because it will make me feel younger.
“The difference (between now and five years ago) is I’m a little bit older. I’m not the same player but, in my heart, the energy for playing baseball is still the same.”