There’s little in this essay that Mets fans do not already know. Instead, the task at hand is what to make of it.
In 2011, Ruben Tejada batted .284 in 96 games as a part-time infielder and primary back-up to Jose Reyes. He landed the role of full-time shortstop when Reyes signed an off-season free agent deal with Miami.
Jul 5, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Mets third baseman Ruben Tejada (11) celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run in the fourth inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
With a vast majority of fans already in support of their diminutive replacement, Ruben (then 22-yrs old) turned in a seemingly break out season batting .289, with 26 doubles and 25 RBI.
Not to shabby, so we thought…
In April of 2013 the proverbial Mr. Hyde showed up wearing #11, and for two seasons Ruben Tejada‘s performance and standing within the organization plummeted. Poor conditioning, inevitable injuries, a (supposedly) deteriorating attitude, seemingly diminishing skills, and conflicts with his manager seemed like sure signs Ruben’s Mets career was nearing its end.
In truth, the only thing that prevented Ruben Tejada from emptying his locker of personal items was Sandy Alderson’s failure to sign a free agent shortstop, or acquire one through trade, or produce an adequate replacement through the farm system.
Throughout those two seasons, and even during the first few months of this season, Mets fans (me included) were quick to pile on him. Replacing the offensively challenged shortstop became an anthem of the fans.
At one point or another, we’ve all yelped, “He’s just not a major league hitter!”
In fairness, however, the conditions in which Ruben Tejada played must be taken into account. To put it plainly, the Mets were a bad club. Losing has a tendency of magnifying team inefficiencies and individual deficiencies, sometimes to the point of inaccuracy, and even absurdity.
Losing can similarly take situations out of context which can then reflect badly on everyone. In Ruben’s case, that (fairly, or unfairly) earned him the moniker of weakest link in the chain, ironically, for a team that routinely finished in the bottom third of most, if not all, N.L. offensive categories.
Terry Collins, however, never found it in his heart to turn his back on him. Their relationship is not unlike many other strained, yet respectful father/son bonds, replete with tough love and sometimes contentious interactions.
The plan in 2015 called for Wilmer Flores starting at shortstop, while Ruben Tejada played off the bench. This was Sandy Alderson’s not-so-secret ploy to showcase Flores and hopefully trade him. The plan almost worked, as we’re led to believe the proposed deal sending Flores and Zack Wheeler to Milwaukee in exchange for Carlos Gomez ultimately fell through due to concerns regarding Gomez’ hip.
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In April, Ruben appeared in just 7 of the Mets first 23 games. He went 3 for 18, for a .167 average.
In May, he played in 15 of 28 games, going 11 for 39, for a much improved .282 average.
By June, Tejada was playing full-time again appearing in 23 of 24 scheduled games, but his offensive production experienced another downturn, going 20 for 87 for a .230 average.
That did little to dissuade Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins from handing shortstop back over to Ruben on June 28th, moving Wilmer Flores to second, and shifting Daniel Murphy to third. Unfortunately, Wilmer Flores left Alderson and Terry Collins no choice. With a pennant race on their hands realigning the infield was the correct move.
That said, July proved to be a pivotal month for the Mets, and Ruben Tejada’s month-long contributions factored as prominently as that of any position player, or pitcher on the Mets roster prior to Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
His play in the weeks and days leading up to the deadline effectively muted those calling for his ouster. Ruben added 20-points to his OBP, posted a 10-game hitting streak, and batted .287 for the month, raising his season average from .228 to a .257 mark.
Therefore, in the name of fairness, let’s give Ruben Tejada his due credit for performing well in the midst of a mid-summer pennant race.
For the moment, it’s a nice story. Unfortunately, nothing is ever that clear cut. Ruben’s underlying accomplishment is a little more dubious. Once again, he has blurred the distinctions between Good Tejada/Bad Tejada. In fact, Ruben is at a point in his career where he’s spent roughly equal portions playing both well and poorly.
That means he’s no longer a youngster, and still only a 50/50 proposition.
Or, does it?
Now 25-years old, Ruben Tejada is a sudden beneficiary of circumstance.
Sandy Alderson’s recent acquisitions of Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Yoenis Cespedes, combined with the return of Travis d’Arnaud, and the resurgence of Lucas Duda, should now render Ruben Tejada’s bat an inconsequential matter. Moving forward, any offensive production he can provide would be welcome, but no longer critical. And if you believe in trickle down effects, then Ruben’s offensive contribution will be good enough.
This much is certain: there’s no questioning Ruben Tejada’s ability to play shortstop. We all know he’s quite good at it. Now free of offensive expectations, he can singularly focus on playing superlative defense down the stretch for a pennant contender.
Despite losing fan support over the years, Ruben Tejada has suddenly become a perfect fit for the Mets. I’m sure their young pitchers would agree.
If there’s an improvement to be had during the waiver period, okay. Meanwhile, next year is next year. For now, conditions have changed for the better, so let’s finally get behind him.
He’s a good shortstop. His glove will matter down the stretch.