As the Mets play their last exhibition game, the reality of the team’s shortstop situation is setting in. Though Sandy Alderson had publicly stated that upgrading shortstop was an offseason priority, the Mets will once again go with Ruben Tejada.
The reaction to this among the fan base, though somewhat divided, is generally not positive. Part of the reason for this is that though Tejada had a decent 2012 (.289/.333/.351), he has struggled mightily since then (most recently hitting .190 during spring training with 4 errors). Another part of the reaction likely stems from the implied reasons why Tejada is being given another chance as the starting job.
The Mets repeatedly claim that they’re over their financial constraints. A recent story indicated that there were bank-imposed salary restrictions on the team, and that those restrictions have been lifted (along with the re-financing of a large loan). However, Stephen Drew remains available on the free-agent market, and the Mets have refrained from signing him. Certainly the demands of Drew and his agent, Scott Boras, are somewhat unreasonable, but the Mets did offer him $9.5 million for a single season. The Mets’ refusal to go higher/longer with Drew clearly is partially driven by finances (along with Drew’s demands). Therefore, Tejada’s being the starting shortstop serves as a reminder that perhaps the financial issues are not gone. Worse, it symbolizes that frugal spending may be the team’s course indefinitely, making winning that much more difficult.
Sandy Alderson had other opportunities to address shortstop via the trade route. We heard about Nick Franklin and Didi Gregorius all spring, yet nothing happened. Alderson, reportedly, did not want to send a young pitcher to Seattle or Arizona for a shortstop. This sends a message to the fans. The message is that perhaps the team does not feel that it’s ready to compete in 2014, and may be holding its prospects for moves to be made after the 2014 season. This may be prudent, but it’s a tough sell to a fan base that has not seen a winning team since 2008. The fans are tired of waiting. The organization wants the fans to be excited about 2014, but how can Sandy and company realistically expect that to happen when the organization’s inactivity suggests that it isn’t doing what it takes to win this year?
Ruben Tejada may have a bounce-back season in 2014. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that he will. What I have seen is an organizational reluctance to address shortstop (after identifying it as a primary need). Maybe this is a product of financial hardships yet unresolved. Maybe it’s a product of an organzational belief that the team’s time has not yet come. In either case, when the Mets take the field on Monday, Ruben Tejada will remind me that both of these things are very real.