The talks are stalled, a source says, over the Cubs' insistence that the Orioles give up left-hander Erik Bedard along with Tejada if they want Prior – and the Cubs' refusal to include top outfield prospect Felix Pie or a top pitching prospect in return.
The Cubs and Orioles also have engaged in three-way discussions with the Red Sox in which Tejada would go to the Cubs and Ramirez to the Orioles, according to another source. The package the Sox would receive is unclear, but conceivably could include Prior, shortstop Ronny Cedeno and center fielder Corey Patterson.
Whatever the details, a three-way deal would appear to be a longshot, and no other deal appears close. The Red Sox would need to give the Orioles pitching along with Ramirez if they wanted Tejada in a straight, two-team trade. The Angels' offers for Tejada have been insufficient, sources say.
The Orioles are concerned that they would be losing too much offense if Prior was their principal acquisition in a Tejada deal. The Red Sox share the same reservation about trading Ramirez for anything other than a hitter of Tejada's caliber.
The Orioles and Cubs have been talking for at least a week. While the teams completed a trade involving outfielder Sammy Sosa last off-season, that deal was essentially a salary dump by the Cubs. A Tejada deal would be more difficult to accomplish.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos is a difficult negotiator who routinely procrastinates on major personnel moves. He also is a stickler for players with clean medical records, and Prior has been injured in each of his three full seasons with the Cubs. Any deal involving Ramirez would require him to waive his no-trade clause, an issue that could further complicate discussions.
The Cubs are believed to be more willing to trade Prior, 25, than right-hander Carlos Zambrano, 24, who has emerged as the team's workhorse and ace. The Orioles likely would not be interested in right-hander Kerry Wood, 28, who is coming off shoulder surgery.
If the Cubs acquired Bedard along with Tejada, they would gain a ready replacement for Prior and keep their rotation at full strength. But the Orioles need to add pitching, not trade it, which is why they would want the Cubs to include a top prospect. Cedeno, Patterson and second baseman Todd Walker are among the other Cubs who could attract the Orioles' interest.
Tejada, 29, said he wanted to be traded in an interview with the Associated Press earlier this month, stating his desire to play for a winning organization and his belief that he would benefit from a "change of scenery."
He later softened his remarks publicly, but did not back off his position in talks with club officials. He has four years and $48 million remaining on the six-year, free-agent contract he signed with the Orioles prior to the 2004 season.
Rather than move Tejada, the Orioles could attempt to improve the team around him. They've signed free-agent catcher Ramon Hernandez, 29, to a four-year, $27.5 million contract and free-agent outfielder Jeff Conine, 39, to a one-year, $1.75 million deal. They also are talking to free-agent outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, 36, and are one of several clubs pursuing free-agent right-hander Kevin Millwood, 31, who seems most likely to sign with the Rangers.
While the Cubs appear to be the team pushing hardest for Tejada, the Orioles have maintained steady dialogue about a possible deal with the Red Sox. If the Orioles could swing a deal for Ramirez and pitching, they then would seek to trade for a shortstop or sign one as a free agent.
The Angels, meanwhile, continue to view the addition of a slugger like Tejada as their top priority. Their talks for Ramirez have not advanced, and like the Cubs, they have numerous young players who would appeal to the Orioles, starting with right-hander Ervin Santana and first baseman Casey Kotchman. The Orioles also could take back high-priced veterans like shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Darin Erstad in a trade.
The White Sox, willing to move right-hander Jon Garland or right-hander Jose Contreras, appear more of a longshot for Tejada. Both Garland and Contreras, however, are eligible for free agency at the end of the season. Under Angelos, the Orioles have routinely balked at acquiring potential free agents without the assurance of signing them long-term.