|ST. LOUIS CARDINALS|
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
Signed SS-R Ruben Tejada to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [3/19]
Ever since Jose Reyes moved on in free agency, the Mets have been looking for something great from their shortstop position. That great thing was supposed to be Tejada, as players who start off their careers as regulars on or before the age of 21 tend to turn out pretty great. Each season, the Mets started off with Tejada as the presumed everyday shortstop—but by the end of each season, Tejada was in some sort of time-share, or had lost his spot to Omar Quintanilla. Suffice to say, the Tejada era hasn’t gone exactly as planned.
Though the team and its fans have been hoping for excellence, Tejada—despite his flaws—has emerged as a serviceable, if not spectacular option at the six. It’s somewhat surprising to see a team release a player who has provided about two WARP over four of the last five seasons, but that’s exactly what the Mets just did. After his (post)season was ended abruptly by Chase Utley’s dastardly slide, the still-young shortstop appears fully recovered, and ready to return to the form he showed in 2015.
Over the past two seasons, Tejada has hit like a roughly league-average hitter…for all positions. Not shortstops, but everyone. His .260 TAv in 2014 and .277 mark in 2015 were over a combined 826 plate appearances, so we’re not talking about some sort of fluky small sample size. At the same time, he did suffer from a rather high .315 BABIP, and Tejada isn’t the sort of speedy, slap-hitting player (or powerhouse) that should maintain a BABIP of that level. No, he’s more of a good-approach, walk-and-the-occasional-double offensive option, and has benefited for years by hitting in front of the pitcher; he has 16 intentional walks over the past two seasons, which is three more than Jose Bautista.
He’s also a maddening fielder, capable of moments of great fluidity, but also looking disinterested and lost at other points. He has a track record of success in small samples off short (at second and third base), but he was an absolute mess at shortstop last season. FRAA was kinder (-4.0 runs overall over all three positions), than DRS (-18 runs at all positions) and UZR (-4.4 runs at all spots) this past season. Tejada is the type of player that you slot in and hope he’ll be average, not anything greater than that.
As a result, his 2016 PECOTA projection (0.8 wins, .249 TAv) looks uninspiring, until you unpack it from the fact that that this number is only over 171 plate appearances. Over a full season? That’s a league-average shortstop, and roughly the same player that gave the Mets solid age-24 and age-25 seasons. Though his BABIP may have been a bit high in 2015, there’s nothing in his profile that projects for dramatic regression in his age-26 season. While it may be easy to believe in the Cardinals’ “Devil Magic,” we don’t need the occult to explain how he could thrive in Missouri.
Tejada is a seamless fit for St. Louis, as they try desperately to keep up with the Joneses in the NL Central. As a serviceable starter and great backup on a cheap one-year deal, he’s exactly the kind of luxury teams long for. Jhonny Peralta’s thumb injury opens up a hole for another underappreciated starting shortstop with something to prove—just as Peralta once fit that mold. One could argue that St. Louis now boasts one of the deepest infields in baseball, with potential regulars in Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, Peralta, Tejada, and Matt Carpenter. Could they at some point have a very real roster crunch once injuries start to heal? Possibly, but that’s a problem teams long for.
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