Earlier this week, Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada completed his rehab assignment and was promptly optioned to the Mets AAA affiliate in Las Vegas. It was not a shocking development since Tejada clearly had issues with performance. There have also been rumblings that the Mets were unhappy with his overall conditioning when he arrived at Spring Training this year, and Sandy Alderson went so far as to say Tejada was not considered a part of the core of the team moving forward.
The Mets clearly believe Tejada still has work to do in Las Vegas to get to the point where he can again contribute to the major league team. However, whether or not you think Tejada is a starting shortstop at the major league level or that he should back up Omar Quintanilla, there remains a question about the Mets’ roster choices regarding the position: why do they continue to go without a true backup shortstop?
There have been three players to start for the Mets at shortstop this season: Tejada, Quintanilla, and “super-sub” Justin Turner. At the end of Spring Training the Mets made the curious decision to include outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the roster at the expense Quintanilla. The reasoning probably had something to do with the state of the outfield and their (questionable) belief that Turner could man the position on days that the starter needed a day off. So far, Turner has started a total of three games at shortstop and the starters have gotten little rest.
Even if you agree with giving your starting shortstop ridiculously little rest and that Turner should ever play there, what do you do if Turner gets hurt? Well, he’s been on the disabled list since mid-June and there’s yet to be a viable backup shortstop on the roster since. If Quintanilla gets hurt mid-game the team is in a precarious position. Sure, David Wright can swing over to the position in a pinch and you can plug in either Josh Satin or Daniel Murphy at third base, but is that even remotely an ideal solution?
Beyond getting regular rest for your starter, Terry Collins is limited in late-game substitutions and pinch hitting. For instance, he can’t pinch hit for Quintanilla in the late innings because there is no one who could realistically replace him in the field. You’d certainly hope to avoid plugging Jordany Valdespin there again.
Obviously the injury to Tejada has made the situation complicated even if he were relegated to the bench, but it’s not like the team doesn’t have options. Brandon Hicks has been doing a fine job at shortstop in Las Vegas this year and, though he is not currently on the 40-man roster, calling him up would immediately strengthen the position. Maybe a trade is in the works? Whatever route they choose, it’s a position that really should be solidified in the short term and Turner is not the answer.
For a front office that seems to value up-the-middle defense as much as the Mets’ does, it’s particularly puzzling that they’d go more than half of the season with shaky depth at shortstop. Quintanilla has been doing an admirable job for the Mets for as long as he’s been with the team and has earned a starting job. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get hurt or need a day off.