Ask any New York Mets fan what the biggest issues are with the team and there is a good likelihood they will say the shortstop. Following the departure of Jose Reyes, Ruben Tejada was pegged as “the guy” to replace him. The fact that the team didn’t even make an offer to Reyes shows the confidence they had in Tejada. In his first year as full-time starter, he made the decision look great. In just over 500 at bats Tejada hit .289 and was getting on base in 1/3 of his plate appearances.
And then there was the debacle that was 2013. Tejada played in only 57 games, half of what he played in the year prior, and hit a dismal .202. Multiple injuries kept Tejada off the field, but even when he was healthy he couldn’t produce. He went from leadoff hitter to batting eighth the next year.
His defense struggled as well. After posting 12 errors in 2012 for a fielding percentage of .974, he made eight errors in 200 fewer chances in 2013.
This season does not appear to be an improvement. Through 18 games and 63 plate appearances Tejada is batting an all-too-familiar .204 (11 hits) with one extra base hit and 3 RBI, mainly from the 8th spot in the lineup. What is worth noting for Tejada is his much improved on base percentage this season (.306 vs. .259 last year), however a good chunk of that improvement likely comes from his four intentional walks.
Tejada’s inability to hit for average is his biggest problem. He really has no power to speak of, with only two career home runs, and RBI are not always easy to come by for a #8 hitter. What he should bring to the table is the ability to get on base for the players at the top of the order to drive in and he hasn’t been able to do that.
As for a solution to this problem, the quickest fix, and possible longest term fix, would be a trade. A team like the Mariners, who have been in discussions with the Mets due to their excess at the position, would be the most likely match. However the recent trade of Ike Davis has cost the Mets their biggest bargaining chip. Unless the team is willing to part with some of their young pitching, it’s unlikely a deal gets done.
The only major league option on the roster is Omar Quintanilla. Quintanilla has never been an everyday player in his career and though he provides incredible defense is only a .220 career hitter. Quintanilla is competent as a back-up middle infielder who can come off the bench and earn the occasional start but not much more than that.
Looking to the minor leagues, the player most likely to be called up is Wilmer Flores. Flores, though a natural shortstop, hadn’t played the position since 2011 until the Mets moved him back to the spot late this spring. Flores is a significant improvement offensively over all other options but may be a liability on defense because of his limited range. Flores is hitting nearly .250 with 10 RBI in 17 games with Las Vegas this season. Other minor league options include Wilfredo Tovar, who saw some time in the majors late last year but struggled at the plate in the limited time he saw in the majors and is a level below Flores at Double-A Binghamton.
The least likely option would be a free agent signing. Yes, Stephen Drew is still available but I don’t see Sandy Alderson shelling out the money to bring him in even if it’s only for one season. This is a problem that the team will likely have to fix in house.
The most likely solution will be Flores. It remains to be seen if he can manage to be a major league shortstop or if he can live up to the hype offensively. If he performs well and Tejada struggles or is injured again, Flores should be the guy. The question that remains is, can he perform well enough to be the shortstop of the future, or will Flores simply be a placeholder?