Entering Monday, April 29, Tejada had committed six errors in 22 games, second most among MLB shortstops behind Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals. The 23-year-old Tejada is hitting just .241 this season alongside a sub-par .333 on-base percentage. With a career OPS of .662, Tejada hits like famed glove man Rey Ordonez, but doesn't flash the leather to compensate for lackluster hitting.
In fact, Tejada's defense is costing the Mets games.
In Saturday's 9-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, Tejada allowed a potential double-play ball squirt through his legs during the Phillies' five-run fifth inning. Ryan Howard's hard-hit grounder was generously scored a hit, but Mets fans have seen this act before. The next batter, Dominic Brown, launched a three-run homer to put the game out of reach.
Of course, small sample sizes are a scourge on clear-headed, rational thinking when it comes to baseball decisions. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is too smart to jump to conclusions after 22 games. Tejada made just 12 errors in 456 chances in 2012, compared to six errors in 115 chances this season. Logic dictates that number should revert to the mean, or Tejada could find himself riding the pine.
With that said, the Mets simply don't have other options to explore at shortstop this season. New York's backup shortstop is utility infielder Justin Turner, who has played just one game at short this season.
In other words, the Mets didn't consider Tejada a question mark entering the season. The team hardly expected Tejada to morph into Troy Tulowitzki in the offseason, but reliable defensive play is the bare minimum of manager Terry Collins' expectations.
There aren't any near-term solutions in the farm system, either. In 2012, Triple-A prospect Wilmer Flores converted from shortstop to second base because of his error-prone defense. Flores hasn't played a game at shortstop since 2011. Triple-A Las Vegas' starter at short is 31-year-old Omar Quintanilla, who hit .257/.350/.371 in 80 at-bats with the Mets last season before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
The Mets would need to go outside of the organization to replace Tejada. Fortunately, the contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana expire at the end of the season. Santana has a $5.5 million buyout option that the Mets will certainly exercise in light of his season-ending elbow injury. That's nearly $40 million in available payroll that Alderson will have at his disposal.
He turned Carlos Beltran into promising starter Zack Wheeler. Imagine what he could do with an influx of cash.
Mets owner Fred Wilpon claims be free of potential financial issues that could inhibit the team's ability to land free agents, but hardly inspired confidence when the Mets failed to sign center fielder Michael Bourn this past winter. Could the front office find a premier shortstop of the future in free agency? Not likely.
The Mets have a slew of other issues to address with shortstop landing low on the list. The bullpen, which relies on the 40-year-old right arm of LaTroy Hawkins, is one of the worst in the majors. The outfield is a mish-mash of journeymen and minor leaguers that has just one everyday player in Lucas Duda. The backend of the rotation is a turnstile with Dillon Gee's legitimacy as a starter in question following a blood clot in his pitching shoulder that ended his 2012 season.
Should the Mets spend valuable free-agent dollars on an overpriced shortstop? Stephen Drew, who's hitting .148/.260 in 48 at-bats for the Boston Red Sox this season, could be a cost-effective option for New York.
Other 2014 free agents include Detroit's Jhonny Peralta, Seattle's Brendan Ryan, Cincinnati's Cesar Izturis and Milwaukee's Yuniesky Betancourt.
It's hard to imagine the Detroit Tigers allowing Peralta to walk and leaving a major a hole at an already thin position. Other options are hardly an improvement over Tejada, who is still a young player in just his third full season.
At least for the time being, the best solution for the Mets is to hope that Tejada breaks out of his fielding slump and reverts to his 2012 form. Anything Tejada produces with his bat is house money.
Ruben Tejada isn't just a spot holder until the team becomes a contender again. He's the shortstop of the future. Like it or not.
Jon Krouner is a writer and editor whose work appears in The Post-Standard, SB Nation, Newsday and Rivals. Jon is an associate producer for SnapCall Sports, a mobile-device application developer based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
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