The Mets left the Winter Meetings with a better team than they had before the meetings began. However, they left with some unfinished business. The bullpen needs some work, primarily because of the uncertainty regarding the health of Bobby Parnell. Recent reports indicate that Parnell will not even begin baseball activities for a few weeks, and this is forcing the Mets to look at pitchers with closing experience, such as free agents Kevin Gregg and John Axford. The other need the Mets have yet to address is shortstop, a topic that has been much discussed in recent days.
Last year, Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins seemed disenchanted with Ruben Tejada, who was criticized for a lack of hustle, and overall sub-par play. Tejada was sent to the minor leagues after rehabilitating an injury he sustained in late May, returning briefly in September when he suffered a season-ending injury. Tejada’s 2013 numbers were not pretty, as he posted a triple slash of .202/.259/.260. Tejada’s numbers in 2012 were better, with a triple slash of .289/.333/.351. In 2013, Tejada also seemed listless in the field at times, drawing the ire of the organization. Tejada did not help himself with the perception of his work ethic, as Alderson said that getting Tejada to do extra work was like “pulling teeth.” It became clear, or so it seemed, that the Mets would prioritize upgrading shortstop this off-season. However, Tejada still has the job, and both Collins and Alderson have talked about the ability to carry Tejada’s bat with an otherwise improved offense.
There are several reasons why giving the starting shortstop job to Tejada in 2014 is cause for concern. As Alderson has said, Tejada will not hit for power nor steal bases, therefore he must play flawless defense and get on base to have a positive value proposition. Tejada has not shown that can do either consistently. His UZR in 2012 was 0.9, and in 2013 it was 0.2. He has a career UZR of 1.1, meaning that he essentially has shown to be an average fielder. His OBP is less than stellar, with a career mark of .323. In the context of the 2014 Mets, many are suggesting that the team’s shortstop may need to be the lead-off hitter (something I don’t understand, when the league’s stolen base leader is on the roster). Tejada certainly does not project as a lead-off hitter, and with Juan Lagares tentatively slotted into the 8th spot in the lineup, it’s difficult to find an appropriate spot for Tejada in the batting order. Therefore, it would seem that the Mets need to import a shortstop who could lead-off (provided Eric Young Jr. remains in a fourth outfielder role).
Tejada seems to be a low-ceiling player, who may not fit into the role that the Mets expect from their shortstop in 2014. If there is a new starting shortstop, Tejada may have a role as a backup middle infielder, a spot now vacant with the departure of Justin Turner. Sandy Alderson has stated that his off-season work is not done. Let’s hope that finding an every day shortstop remains on his to-do list.