Rubén Tejada: is he really good, or just good enough?
Jose Reyes returned to CitiField Tuesday night for the first time since he sold his considerable shortstop talents to the Miami Marlins. He heard more boos than cheers, and he continued to struggle at the plate.
His replacement, Rubén Tejada, had a boo-worthy night himself. He struck out three times and failed to execute a sacrifice in the last of the 8th with the score tied at 1. The Mets ended up scoring in the inning and won the game, 2-1.
Going into the 2012 season, the Mets knew that Tejada was not going to be another Reyes. He's not as speedy and he's not likely to overtake Reyes as National League batting champ. Tejada is, however, off to a much better start at the plate than Reyes, who went hitless in four at-bats Tuesday night. His batting average dropped to an astonishing .215. His slow start aside, losing a player of Reyes' caliber leaves a big hole in the Mets infield.
That's no knock at Tejada. So far in his young career, Tejada has been a serviceable shortstop. He's good with the glove, he usually gets on base on way or another, and his batting average will continue to hover in the .250 to .270 range. He's calm and measured beyond his 22 years, and his teammates praise his demeanor and determination.
So barring injury or a trade, Tejada is the starting shortstop for this season. But is he just a stopgap shortstop, or can the Mets rely on him for the foreseeable future?
It depends on what the Mets expect and are willing to accept from Tejada.
He's big-league material for sure. But he has yet to live up to the predictions of scouts who touted him as exceptional when he joined the Mets two years ago.
Many baseball observers and fans have urged patience. Tejada might still develop into a quality shortstop.
But the Mets did him wrong by bringing him up to the bigs too soon. The Mets would have been neither hurt nor improved two years ago had they allowed Tejada another season of seasoning in Triple-A. Now Tejada has to do his post-graduate work in the New York spotlight.
At Tejada's age, Reyes was already firmly established as a premier shortstop, and he was an All-Star at 23. The Mets say there's no pressure on Tejada to match Reyes' early career achievements, but it's hard to shake the sense that the Mets are expecting too much too soon from Tejada.
Whatever happens, Tejada is the Mets 2012 shortstop, if not by talent, then by default. Ronny Cedeño is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a strained chest muscle. He'll be back to spot Tejada when needed.
Unless the Mets acquire another infielder, it looks like Tejada will continue at short beyond this season, again, by default. Wilmer Flores, who was being groomed as the shortstop of the future when he joined the Mets organization three years ago, hasn't panned out. He's still a top prospect, but it appears that his future (if he has one in the majors) is at first base.
Beyond that, the Mets' farm system is filled with question marks. Jordany Valdespin, who has been called up from Triple-A Buffalo while Cedeño is on the DL, has shown promise, but he's also been inconsistent, and he's more of a second baseman than a shortstop. Other prospects in the system are a least a couple of years from being ready for New York.
Look for Tejada to stick around for a while. While it's unlikely he'll develop into a Reyes-like All-Star, he's got the tools to keep the infield from falling apart.
In other words, he'll do.