People love ripping on the New York Mets these days, and let's face it, in some ways they've earned it with back-to-back September swoons in 2007 and 2008, and a 2009 season that was arguably baseball's biggest nightmare of the decade.
So far this spring, things are no better, and if anything, a little weirder. Now shortstop Jose Reyes, who had a miserable 2009 due to a recurring hamstring problem, has been diagnosed with a thyroid issue that will keep him off the baseball field for somewhere between two weeks and two months. That's a crazy big window thanks to a condition that's hard to predict, but even the Mets are making every indication that Reyes won't be at shortstop on Opening Day. And as the club learned last year, he's tough to replace. But there is a decent short-term answer, and it's not the one you think.
The man who is supposed to fill in for Reyes is Alex Cora, a journeyman who hit .251/.320/.310 last year as Reyes' back-up. With that kind of line, it's only makes sense for the Mets to start considering other options. One name that is getting tossed around inside their offices is Ruben Tejada, the club's top shortstop prospect. Now the first reaction is to laugh this off as the worst idea ever (hey, it is the Mets), as we're talking about a 20 year-old who played at Double-A last year and while solid, didn't exactly light things up with a batting line of .289/.351/.381 for Binghamton. Thing is, giving Tejada the job, at least temporarily, might not be such a bad idea.
When one thinks of a Latin American shortstop (Tejada is Panamanian), the expectation is a raw athlete oozing with tools -- but Tejada is the exact opposite. He has a near-zero chance of ever being a star, but at the same time, he's one of the most fundamentally sound 20-year-olds you'll ever see. He works the count, makes consistent contact (59 strikeouts in 553 plate appearances last year), and while his range at the position is merely average, he makes the plays on the balls he gets to. Strikeouts and out-of-control fielding are the things that usually spell doom for a rookie, but Tejada has both of those bases covered, so as long as Reyes is out, why not see what the young player can do?
This wouldn't be another case of the Mets curbing the development of some high-ceiling prospect by rushing him to the majors; Tejada is pretty much all he's ever going to be right now, and he's certainly not going to be worse than Cora.
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.