Ruben Tejada‘s New York Mets career came to an end when Chase Utley broke his leg during last year’s National League Division Series.
With the off-season additions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera pushing Wilmer Flores into a reserve role, Tejada was slated to be the Mets’ second backup infielder in 2016… and with a $3 million salary, Tejada was apparently too expensive for the Mets.
According to published reports, the Mets placed Tejada on waivers – if another team claims him, the Mets would be completely free of Tejada’s salary. If they end up releasing him more than 15 days before Opening Day, the Mets still save 5/6 of the money.
If you thought the Yoenis Cespedes signing signaled an end to the Mets’ penny-pinching payrolls, I guess you were wrong.
Cabrera is hurt and may miss Opening Day. Wright is slated to make his first Grapefruit League appearance on Friday, and there are questions about just how many regular season games he will be able to play this year.
So it seems like there would have been some playing time for Tejada, at least early in the year. Mets 360’s Larry Smith took a look at ways to improve the Mets’ lineup against lefty pitching today, and it seems like there could have been a role for Tejada even if everyone stays healthy for most of the year.
In some spring training lineups we have already seen a top two of [Curtis] Granderson and Neil Walker. That seems very promising if the starting pitcher throws righty but looks feeble if the pitcher is a southpaw.
Walker has a .260 batting average and .317 on-base percentage in 677 at-bats against left-handed pitching. Tejada has a .281 batting average and a .363 on-base percentage against lefties in 519 at-bats. (Flores is actually a worse option than Walker, hitting .230 with a .281 on-base percentage in 191 at-bats.)
Instead, the Mets will likely open the season with Eric Campbell and Matt Reynolds as their two infield backups, assuming Cabrera starts the year on the disabled list.
While Campbell was extremely disappointing last season, there’s at least some evidence that he was a victim of bad luck: he had a career-low .230 batting average on balls in play. Typically about 30 percent of balls put into play fall in for hits, though there is some variation due to the type of contact made. Campbell should have better “luck” in 2016 and offers the Mets a more experienced option backing up the corner infield spots, so I can see some baseball rationale in giving him a roster spot.
Reynolds is a 25-year-old rookie with no major league experience. He had one good minor league season in 2014 that put him on the Mets’ radar, but he’s been unable to duplicate it and probably never will.
Reynolds’ 2014 season was as unexpected as it is unrepeatable. After posting a .635 OPS in 2013, Reynolds recorded an .859 OPS split between Double and Triple-A in 2014. Then last year he put up a .721 OPS. In Las Vegas, where Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a 1.048 mark. Where old pal – and pitcher – Darin Gorski put up an .885 mark. Last year 44 players came to bat for Las Vegas and over 5,466 PA, they posted a .788 OPS. Reynolds’ mark was 68 points below that.
So, what the heck happened in 2014 and why is it unrepeatable?
Reynolds posted a .433 BABIP in Double-A and followed that up with a .404 BABIP in Triple-A in 2014. Now, minor league BABIPs do not necessarily follow the same rules as ones recorded in the majors. But a mark over .400 is still extremely high. Last year in the PCL, only three batters who qualified for the batting title had a .400 BABIP. By contrast, Odubel Herrera had a .387 BABIP for the highest mark among MLB qualified hitters….
Last year in Las Vegas, Reynolds posted a .319 BABIP. FanGraphs does not have convenient team-wide numbers for minor league teams. But among those on the 51s with at least 100 PA, Reynolds’ .319 mark ranked 10th out of 19 players – exactly in the middle. And with this median BABIP, Reynolds posted an OPS 68 points below the team mark. And that team mark includes pitchers.
There is exactly one reason for Sandy Alderson and the Mets’ braintrust to prefer having Reynolds on the team over Tejada: money. Reynolds would make the league minimum salary, compared to Tejada’s $3 million.
If all goes well, Cabrera just misses a few games, Walker figures out how to improve his numbers against lefties, Wright plays in 130 or so games, Flores and Campbell perform adequately in limited roles… and no one really notices that Tejada is gone.
But we all know that the 162-game Major League Baseball season tests depth… let’s hope that the Mets are not found wanting.