One of the stories that’s floated under the radar this season has been the almost 180-degree reversal of fan opinion on Ruben Tejeda. Fans have generally gone from being appreciative and optimistic about Tejeda — penciling him in at SS for the next five years — to being “done” with him. A tidal shift from “like” to “dislike.”
There was no great hue and cry over Sandy Alderson’s recent comments: 1) That he did not see Tejeda as a core player; and 2) That he’ll have to earn his way back to the MLB level.
How did it come to this? A quick recap:
- Ruben made his Mets debut at age 20. A good glove who couldn’t hit a lick: .213/.305/.282. But he was only 20, the bat obviously not ready for the bigs, and as the cliche goes, he had good instincts and knew how to play the game right.
- At the tender age of 21, he returned to Citi Field for 376 PAs and showed significant improvement, hitting .284 and achieving an OPS of .696. Yes, he was slow. Yes, he didn’t have much power. Yes, his range was only fair. But the improvement was there and his head appeared to be in the game. Some fans (not me) projected nearly-great things for Ruben.
- At 22, he took over for Jose Reyes and, lo and behold, the world continued to spin in its orbit. Ruben improved in almost every area: .289/.333/.351. The slugging numbers were up a tick and goodness did he work counts! He was the Met most-praised for good ABs, which these days amounts to taking pitches and fouling balls off. Doesn’t matter if you get a hit or not, forget the result, the process is king.
Perceptions began to change this Spring. Ruben came in late and overweight. Strangely, the reliable glove was spotty. His throws became erratic. It was disconcerting, because the cornerstone of Ruben’s game, if anything, was his steadiness. Reliable Ruben.
Ruben was such a stabilizing presence, in fact, the organization went north without a backup shortstop. Terry Collins just wrote in his name game after game. Before the quad injury put him on the DL, Tejada has 204 listless PAs to the tune of .209/.267/.262. Most damning of all, he appeared complacent. As if he was a boyfriend who just wasn’t that into us anymore. The effort didn’t seem to be there. Or was that only a perception thing?
Now the prevailing sentiment from most fans I encounter is though they may root-root-root for the home team, they don’t care if he never comes back. Yet he’s still just 23 years old.
Look, I’ve never been a big fan, never seen him as a future piece, but I almost want to defend Ruben a tiny bit. I’ve always like Quintanilla, but it’s not like he’s the answer either.
Frankly I’m not surprised by any of this. Back on April 8, 2013, in a post titled, “Ruben Tejada is Stuck Being the Guy Who Followed “The Guy” I wrote the following
“Ruben Tejada is not a core player. He is not a difference maker. He has no speed, and he has no power. He has limited range.”
A little later I added this:
“He seems to be a good enough guy to me, and he has good baseball smarts. But as we look to be great again, to be a team that can get to an NLCS or more, you really have to wonder about where Ruben Tejada will be when we get there. It’s hard to picture him at short.”
The premise of the article was how Tejada was cynically sold to Mets fans as an answer to the greatest shortstop in Mets history and how that would eventually come back to bite Ruben. In the comments section I addressed the fact that up to that point Tejada had been treated rather well by fans
“I think you will see the issue this year for Ruben. Last year Reyes got off to a slow start and people would compare the two as if we didn’t lose much. Reality is now settling in. Talents like Reyes are rare.”
Tejada is what he is, an average starter, at best. He replaced one of the most electrifying players in our teams history, a player who was perfect for our stadium. A guy who won a batting title going out the door. The backlash was just a matter of time. And yes, it is as unfair to Ruben as the sell job was. Both were orchestrated by the front office.
That was a good call on Tejeda. But I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to see this through the prism of Jose Reyes. Most fans, unlike you, Mike, are sort of over it. Jose is gone, it’s done. People once thought Ruben was decent, a guy they liked, and now (big generalization, I know) they don’t seem to anymore. What’s the expression? The bloom is off the rose. The perception changed in a period of two months. I believe he’s still basically the second-division SS he showed us to be in 2011-12.
If we look through the lens of bloggers, etc. (including us), many of whom tend to be analytical about the team, yes, they have moved on. I don’t think that is a reflection of the majority of fans.
Most Mets fans I know are not interested in payroll crap, they just want to see a winning team and exciting players. Looking at that analytically, it might seem dumb, but being a fan is an emotional thing. Mets fans lost an exciting player and he has not been replaced. It’s not like Reyes was let go and we signed someone else.
I’m not saying everyone is pining over Reyes, he’s gone, yes, and that is that. But it’s human to compare and Tejada looks bad by comparison. That’s not helping Ruben.
Meanwhile, Sandy Alderson keeps stockpiling shortstops. It’s the damnedest thing. The club selected Phillips Evans in the 15th round of the 2011 Draft, uncharacteristically paying way overslot for him. Unfortunately, Evans’ range and arm don’t project well at SS. So in 2012, the club made low-ceiling/high-floor teenager Gavin Cecchini the #1 pick. Meanwhile Wilfredo Tovar continues to be the prototypical “good glove, no stick” shortstop at AA, and ancient T.J. Rivera fills the position at St. Lucie. A year ago the Mets signed the 16-year old Dominican shortstop Ahmed Rosario to a club-record $1.75M deal. Then last week they signed Dominican shortstop Yeffry de Aza for $475,000, and immediately followed that by signing 155-pound Venezuelan shortstop Luis Carpio for $300,000.
Granted, in the amateur ranks, many of the best athletes are shortstops — destined to move to other positions as they get older. And every organization needs depth. But still, it’s not like these guys are future outfielders. Sandy appears bound and determined to find a legitimate shortstop someway, somehow. And I’ll say it for you, Mike: It’s not like he didn’t have one, once.
Until then Ruben deserves another shot to prove he can be an average player, every position does not need to be filled with stars. For now, he played himself to Vegas.
He can play his way out.
With Jordany down there, Ruben may find himself newly motivated.