Mets position players are scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Florida today to begin the annual baseball rebirth known as spring training. Is there any franchise in Major League Baseball more in need of a rebirth than the New York Mets?
As fans wait to see the fate of the franchise played out in a courtroom instead of a stadium, the team is facing a season of decreased expectations. Previous big-name players have been escorted out of town. Others are either looking to rebound for less-than-stellar seasons or injuries.
One is facing the monumental task of replacing one of the more dynamic shortstops to ever play the game: Ruben Tejada.
Tejada is charged with the unenviable task of trying to make Mets fans forget that Jose Reyes bolted in the offseason for division rival Miami. Tejada filled in admirably for Reyes last year and also played second base, batting .284, which is more than anyone expected out of the young man.
As Reyes leaves, Tejada ascends to the starting lineup—albeit by default—and Reyes' past success makes this task an uphill climb. Middle of the road won't be enough for Mets fans still looking to justify their team letting a player of Reyes' caliber not only walk away but stay in the division.
Obviously Tejada feels like he has a good handle on the situation as he didn't feel the need to report early or spend winter training at the team complex, as manager Terry Collins would have preferred.
If you combine both Tejada's and Reyes' total chances at the shortstop position, and figure in Tejada's .956 fielding percentage, that figures out to 32 errors. That would put him at middle-of-the-road status as a fielder. That simply won't do.
He also is replacing the National League batting champion. Reyes hit .337 in an injury-plagued year. No one is expecting Tejada to do that, so he will need to be the best fielder he possibly can be.
All this, of course, is ignoring the fact that Reyes is irreplaceable. Tejada—nor anyone else, for that matter—will ever be another Reyes. He needs to direct all his energy to being the best Ruben Tejada he can be, whatever that looks like.
Can he do that staying home for the winter and waiting until the last possible minute to report? He better, or this experiment may be over before it begins. The real problem there is who else is there? Ronny Cedeno is a better fielder, but his bat is equal or less than Tejada's.
Tejada's offseason choices demonstrate a great amount of risk for not only himself, but the Mets in general. They have major questions up the middle. Replacing a player like Reyes adds a whole different element.
Tejada, unfortunately, is not making it any easier.