The Mets Shouldn’t Have Released Ruben Tejada

It’s not a big move in the overall scheme of things, but I am not a fan of the Mets releasing 26-year-old shortstop Ruben Tejada. In the move, the Mets receive nothing in return but are relieved of $2 million in salary commitments.

Over his career, Tejada has often been knocked for what he is not. He’s not a prolific hitter, with a career .255 average. He’s not a superlative defender, with a career -1.5 UZR. He never developed into the type of player that some thought he would be when he scratched his way into the major leagues as a precocious 21-year-old.

But let’s take a look at what Tejada is.

Tejada hit .261/.338/.350 last year (95 wRC+) and is just entering the prime of his career. His career on-base percentage is .330, and over the last two seasons he’s been worth about 1.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances.

He’s not a wizard defensively, but he hasn’t embarrassed himself out there either — he is a shortstop. His average UZR/DRS over the last three years is -0.8/-6,  which is quite serviceable, and may even have been dragged down by an outlier -15 DRS last season.

Even when I was arguing that the Mets should be trying out Wilmer Flores at shortstop in the second half of the meaningless 2014 season, I admitted as follows:

Don’t get me wrong, though. Ruben Tejada is a major leaguer, and at 25, he may have better days ahead of him. He’s been above replacement this year, and he’s been a couple wins above replacement for his career.

That remains true, especially since Tejada followed up 2014 with a slightly better 2015, setting a personal best for isolated power.

Decent shortstops are hard to find. Only 13 National League shortstops posted 1 WAR or more last year, similar to years past. Many teams currently have starters around the same quality as Tejada, such as Alexei Ramirez (SD), Erick Aybar (ATL) and Jean Segura (MIL).

Tejada was a bargain at $3 million, especially given his consistency and age and the high floor for his performance. So why did the Mets release him?

If the Mets’ roster was at full strength, Tejada’s position was not guaranteed, as he would be battling with Eric Campbell for the final infield spot. Indeed, Campbell is probably a better fit for the Mets roster if the team is fully healthy. However, the Mets infield is already not at full strength, and there’s a good likelihood that they will be at less than full strength for much of the year.

Asdrubal Cabrera is already injured, ostensibly pressing Wilmer Flores into every day duty at shortstop. Even if you believe, like I do, that Eric Campbell is better than he has shown so far — his .231/.317/.328 line in 417 plate appearances in the majors inspires little — he is now inheriting the almost-every-day role formerly belonging to Wilmer Flores where he rests Wright and platoons for Neil Walker and Lucas Duda.

Although the step down from Tejada (SS)/Flores (3B) to Flores (SS)/Campbell (3B) isn’t enormous, it is a downgrade at both positions that didn’t need to be made in a World Series contending year.

If the Mets had kept Tejada on the roster, Campbell could have remained part of the Las Vegas “taxi squad” and called up in case of emergency. Instead, the Mets will feature Matt Reynolds on the roster until the already-injured Asdrubal Cabrera returns from the disabled list (assuming Wright stays off it).

It’s not an indefensible move — perhaps it was a favor to a player who hoped to find playing time elsewhere — but, on the surface, it is not one that I would have made.

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