Ruben Tejada and the New York Mets have had a strained relationship over the last season. After 2013, which saw Tejada out of shape and barely hitting, it’s time that he turns the page. He’s healthier, matured a bit and has more experience at the position than other “replacement” players on the team.
Dare I say, Tejada should still be given the chance to be the Mets' everyday starter.
He certainly has the ability.
1. He Has More Experience at Shortstop Than Wilmer Flores
In 27 games and 95 plate appearances last season, Flores posted a .211 average, .248 OBP and had 13 RBI. He also homered once. Those stats may seem grim, but actually they are generally higher than Tejada’s .202 average, .259 OBP, 10 RBI and zero home runs.
Still, Tejada should be given the shot at shortstop ahead of Flores. Although Flores started his professional career as a shortstop, it didn't pan out. He was slow and didn't move too well as shortstop, causing the team to find other infield positions for him. Why replace Tejada with someone who is slower than he is?
The Mets also need to be cautious of Flores’ ankle injuries last season. He spent some time trying to strengthen his ankle at the Barwis Methods facility in Michigan this winter, but it does not mean that his ankle will hold up this season. The ankle might slow him down even more. Defensively, it doesn't make any sense to have Flores instead of Tejada.
2. Tejada’s New Work-Hard Attitude
That’s not to say that he has never worked hard. But over the past year we can all pretty much agree that Tejada’s head wasn't in the game.
Not this year, though.
This season, Tejada wants to show the organization that he has what it takes to remain the Mets’ everyday shortstop. In fact, he also attended the Barwis Methods facility, along with Flores and other Mets players. Tejada went to the facility twice for a grand total of eight weeks. There, he received nutritional and fitness training with trainer Mike Barwis.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson spoke to Kevin Kernan of the New York Post about Tejada’s new work ethic: "We are very pleased that he is taking this offseason seriously. It’s one of the reasons we have greater confidence that he can handle that position as a regular, so we’ll see."
Besides his personal offseason training, Tejada has also arrived at Mets camp early. That definitely gives him a better look with the manager.
3. He’s Healthier and Back in Shape
When Tejada arrived at Port St. Lucie on Monday, he appeared much trimmer than normal. In fact, he looked like a different guy compared to last spring, when he showed up to camp out of shape.
“He looks good,” manager Terry Collins told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News about Tejada’s new body shape. “You can tell he’s trimmed down and worked hard. I asked him how much faster he is and he said, ‘I’ll show you.’”
While he has lost a few pounds, he’s also gained more muscle. Tejada will most likely become more mobile and swifter both at the shortstop position and on the bases.
Collins also spoke to Marc Craig of Newsday about Tejada’s commitment to shaping up in harsh conditions:
This kid's never seen weather like that before. To deal with it -- not only one month but to go back and do it again when he could be outside in Panama running and fielding ground balls and instead he's in Ann Arbor, Mich., in a hundred inches of snow -- that tells you something.
4. Stephen Drew Probably Isn't Coming to Queens
As we've heard all offseason long, the Mets have been in discussion with Drew. Will they sign him or won’t they sign him? That’s the question everyone wants to know. Except now, it may be time to lay off the idea of Drew being the everyday starter for the Mets.
At this point the Mets are simply looking for a capable, professional shortstop. And while Drew fits those basic qualifications, he and the Mets don’t possess a strong enough business relationship. The two sides can’t agree on how many years should be in his contract.
Plus, Drew and his agent Scott Boras are talking to about five other teams, according to Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated. Besides the Mets, the other teams who are interested in Drew are the Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Dodgers and Jays. The Mets’ chance of signing Drew is getting slimmer and slimmer with each passing day.
Certainly with a new and improved Tejada, the Mets should give him the opportunity to be the starting shortstop. Of course, that is all dependent on his progress during spring training.
But, as of right now, he is the best option for the team if they aren't willing to sign Drew. There is a very shallow pool of decent, available shortstops. And Tejada has the ability to go back to his 2012 days. There isn't a bench player that can do the everyday job of shortstop like Tejada once could.
And he can do it again.