Ruben Tejada, Inevitable Cardinal

A week ago, the St. Louis Cardinals learned they were going to be without Jhonny Peralta for the first couple of months of the season, after he required surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb. Because the Cardinals have been participating in a multi-year experiment to see if you can win games without a viable backup shortstop on the roster, speculation immediately turned to outside acquisitions, since no one thinks running Jedd Gyorko out there on an everyday basis is a good idea. While Erick Aybar was floated as a natural fit, given that he’s in a walk year on a rebuilding team, the Braves quickly hung a high price tag on him, making a deal between the teams unlikely.

Instead, the Cardinals seem likely to make a more minor move, not wanting to create a mid-season playing time problem when Peralta does return. And on the minor acquisition spectrum, there was always one name who made a decent amount of sense: Ruben Tejada.

The signing of Asdrubal Cabrera made Tejada superfluous for the Mets, pushing him into a third-string shortstop role that probably wouldn’t have resulted in a lot of playing time. Even with Cabrera having his own health problems, the Mets still seemed perfectly content to let someone else have Tejada if they wanted him, and his availability was no secret around the league. And then today, the Mets made the speculation official, putting Tejada on waivers, and giving any team the chance to take him if they so desire. While Tejada doesn’t yet have a new uniform, his days as a Met are over, and now we simply wait for the seemingly inevitable announcement that he’ll be signing with the Cardinals.

Now, of course, I’m speculating, and perhaps I’m reading this all wrong. Perhaps the Mets waived Tejada because no one, not even St. Louis, was interested in trading for him, and so they decided to just cut him now and minimize the amount of termination pay they’d have to pay him. By waiving him today, they’ll only owe him 30 days of termination pay ($500,000, essentially), versus 45 days of termination pay if they cut him between tomorrow and the start of the season. If they decided that $2.5 million wasn’t worth having a slightly better third string shortstop, and no one wanted to trade for Tejada at his $3 million salary, then this was the easiest way for the Mets to save some cash.

But my guess is that the Cardinals did want to trade for Tejada, but preferred to pay him less than his contract called for, and so the Mets waived Tejada in order to make him a free agent and give St. Louis a chance to offer him a smaller contract but a chance at increased playing time. If they knew that the Cardinals would give him regular at-bats for the first few months of the season, then they could be doing Tejada something of a favor by cutting him loose and letting him join STL, especially if they knew that the Cardinals wouldn’t have given him that shot at his $3 million price tag.

So, if my speculation is correct, Tejada will clear waivers, then sign with St. Louis at a reduced price. They’re the one team in baseball that can offer him a chance to re-establish his value before he hits free agency next winter, and so even if he won’t make as much as he would have had in 2016 had the Mets retained him, this could end up being a net positive for Tejada in the long-run.

Of course, that assumes that Tejada will perform well given the opportunity. As a slap-hitter whose contact rate has gone the wrong way the last two years, there are legitimate reasons to think that Tejada isn’t really worth regular playing time on a contender. While he established himself as an interesting young player by holding his own in the big leagues at a young age in 2011 and 2012, Tejada has gotten worse in some worrisome ways since then. As mentioned, here are his plate discipline rates by year since getting to the big leagues.

Swing and Contact Rates
Tejada O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
2010 26% 59% 43% 69% 89% 84%
2011 25% 67% 48% 67% 90% 85%
2012 27% 64% 46% 70% 94% 87%
2013 26% 59% 44% 72% 95% 89%
2014 26% 65% 46% 64% 90% 83%
2015 28% 73% 51% 61% 88% 80%

His first few years in the league, Tejada swung at roughly a league average percentage of the pitches he saw, and made contact at a well-above-average rate, allowing him to be relatively productive even without any power. In 2015, though, his swing rate climbed over 50%, making him a pretty aggressive hitter, and his contact rate simultaneously sunk down to league average levels. He did manage to marginally increase his power production — his .089 ISO, while one of the lower totals in the league, was a career high — but the increase in strikeout rate offset the small increase in extra-base hits, leaving Tejada as something a little less productive than he was as a contact specialist.

Early-career Tejada was interesting because of the potential that, as he got older, he could add some power to his already solid base of contact. Instead, he’s traded one for the other, which isn’t really improvement, and puts pressure on his defensive performance to drive the majority of his value. While UZR and DRS were not big fans of his work last year, it’s too early to say that he’s definitely lost the ability to play shortstop, and a bounce-back in defensive performance could still make Tejada a perfectly useful role player, but for him to hold down a starting job, Tejada is going to have to make some strides at the plate.

The Cardinals, of course, have a warehouse of magic powder that turns flawed players into superstars, so perhaps a year in St. Louis will turn him into something more than hew as in New York. Tejada is certainly young enough that it’s not hard to see some untapped potential there, and if any organization is a good bet to figure out how to extract it from him, it’s probably St. Louis. But then, we could make that some argument that they could do that with Gyorko too, and it’s not actually clear that Tejada is substantially better than Gyorko as a player right now.

But since the Mets cut him loose, the Cardinals don’t have much to lose. For probably something not terribly over a million bucks, the team could sign a 26 year old who was a league average shortstop not that long ago, and might be able to get back to that level with some improvements. Tejada’s lack of power or speed limit his upside, but the Cardinals need floor more than ceiling, and Tejada represents a stop-loss opportunity to at least make sure Gyorko doesn’t drive their pitchers insane for the first half of the season.

For what he’ll cost, it seems like a move the Cardinals probably shouldn’t pass up. I wouldn’t expect greatness, though; there’s a reason the Mets weren’t all that motivated to keep him around.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Famous Mortimer
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2 months 8 days ago

What’s your hitrate on these predictions, out of interest? Should I be buying a new shirsey yet?

Zonk
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Zonk
2 months 8 days ago

He’s probably a Cardinal, but what about the White Sox? I haven’t heard if they are sold on Jimmy Rollins. If Rollins still has gas in the tank I would probably roll with him over Tejada, but who knows. And the White Sox just got $12 mil back with LaRoche’s retirement.

Spartacus
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Spartacus
2 months 8 days ago

If I’m Tejada and I have a choice between the Sox and the Cardinals, I wouldn’t even take Hahn’s call… I’d pay my own way to STL. Not even close.

stan
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stan
2 months 8 days ago

Not if you’re going into your free agency year. Tejada would, at best, be a starter for only half a season in St. Louis and full season’s worth of stats would make him a lot more attractive. Jimmy Rollins presents a lot less competition and the Chisox would at least keep him on the roster for the entire season because of their general lack of depth on the infield.
If I’m Tejada, I’m praying the Cardinals don’t take me on waivers (they have priority as an NL team) so that I can make it through to the White Sox.

Spartacus
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Spartacus
2 months 8 days ago

You have to be a Sox fan if you think that… There’s no way he’d pass up a chance to play in a packed stadium with a team in a pennant race to play with a team in a half empty parked that could finish last.

stan
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stan
2 months 8 days ago

No. Not a Sox fan. If he goes to the Sox he probably goes into free agency as a starting shortstop and even has a chance to sign a long-term deal with the Sox since they don’t even have a decent shortstop in the system. If he goes to the Cardinals he gets a chance to play full time for a season but might even get cut after Peralta comes back and has no chance to remain with the team. Economically, going to the Cardinals makes no sense. If he wants to come to St. Louis and play for a packed house and hurt his chances of playing for a big contract, then he wouldn’t be the first to make a decision like that. However, he would definitely be in the minority.

stan
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stan
2 months 8 days ago

meant to say “play full time for half a season”

Spartacus
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Spartacus
2 months 8 days ago

Well it will be interesting to see what happens. I get what your’re saying but I can’t imagine a player choosing the Sox over the Cards… I’m not a fan of either team.

MajesticOwl
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MajesticOwl
2 months 8 days ago

“[T]hey don’t even have a decent shortstop in the system.”

I don’t follow the White Sox very closely, but isn’t Tim Anderson at least decent? He’s listed on this site as having a future value of 60, so while he’s not Carlos Correa, he’s got a chance to be decent or better.

Not that this would be an argument against signing someone else for cheap in case Anderson doesn’t work out.

Still, I think that Tejada would probably be more likely to take a sure half season with St. Louis over a possible near full season with Chicago.

stan
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stan
2 months 8 days ago

Yes. Tim Anderson is much more than decent. My bad. Tejada would be more like a one year stopgap in Chicago. Anderson might even be up this year.

LHPSU
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LHPSU
2 months 8 days ago

Contending matters a lot less when you’re on the fringe of making it as a major league regular and your one chance of a big payday. Taking less money and less playing time to sign with a contender typically only works with players nearing the end of their careers, most of whom have already cashed in a significant contract.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
2 months 7 days ago

I agree that St Louis makes the most sense. He’s only making $3MM this year, but the Mets are cutting him because a) he’s not worth that modest contract to them, and b) presumably nobody was worth giving up even a low-level prospect to take on his contract. Simply put, he’s not someone that should be expecting any sort of long-term deal once he’s a free agent.

The only way that he would warrant a strong deal is if he has a very good year in 2016 – but if that’s the case, then playing for the Cardinals is a good option. He would put up very good numbers in at least half a season, for a probable contender. Then once Peralta comes back, Tejada would either be trade bait to another contender who needs a SS, or he’d be a solid utility player. If he doesn’t play well in the first half, then he won’t be getting a decent deal no matter who he signs with next week.

As for whether the Cardinals should make a play, I think it makes complete sense to claim him on waivers. Even if he’s not quite worth the contract, the dollar amount is low enough where it should be negligible. And in all of the articles I’ve read, people take for granted that Peralta will come back at full strength. Hand and wrist injuries can be tricky, and the Cards will want insurance in case Peralta isn’t the same player when he comes back.

rosen380
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rosen380
2 months 8 days ago

“If they decided that $2.5 million wasn’t worth having a slightly better third string shortstop”

If they go with a player at the league minimum for that roster spot, like Reynolds or Herrera, they have to pay him, $507.5k and Tejada $500k, so it is actually more like $2M extra for Tejada…

Joeys Bat Flip
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Joeys Bat Flip
2 months 7 days ago

I think the point is that most teams don’t even have a third string shortstop. So cutting him loose not only frees up some cash, but allows them to put an extra arm in the bullpen, or another bat on the bench.

jpg
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jpg
2 months 8 days ago

What an interesting career. As Dave mentioned, there was legit excitement surrounding him when he first came up. There were people actually campaigning for him to make Dave’s trade value list after 2011. Then he replaced one of the most popular Mets ever in Jose Reyes and it all went down hill. He showed no improvement in 2012. In 2013, he came into camp fat, was a dreadful sub-replacement player through 57 games before getting demoted and buried in AAA. Then he starts 2014 off as the starter (again) and at that point, he became the #1 target of the fans ire and the symbol for all that was wrong during the team’s lean years. Wilmer Flores eventually takes over to the delight of the fan base. Fast forward to September and Tejada (again) becomes the starter after Wilmer’s bat and, most notably, his glove falters. Then in the playoffs he gets his leg destroyed by Chase Utley and becomes a folk hero. He gets a massive ovation when the players are announced before Game 3 of the NLDS and “Win for Ruben” becomes a rallying cry. Now, five months later, he’s on waivers.

I, along with many others, am actually going to miss him. An even greater number of Mets fans have been eagerly waiting for this day. It’s funny how a mediocre shortstop can become such a polarizing figure. It was like he refused to just die and go away. Welp, that’s Mets fans for you.

Brian P. Mangan
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Brian P. Mangan
2 months 8 days ago

I’m a Mets fan who is a big Flores booster but this really undersells Tejada.

You’re talking about a guy who hit .261/.338/.350 last year (95 wRC+) and who is entering his prime just now. You can’t hold against him the fact that he was pressed into service at the MLB level at 20.

His 3 year UZR/DRS is -2.4/-18 which is dragged down by an outlier -15 DRS last season … so … assuming he can play a slightly below average defensive shortstop, you’ve got yourself a good little player.

Only 13 NL shortstops posted 1 WAR or more last year, that figure was 15 in 2014 and 12 in 2013. A decent shortstop is hard to find. Tejada was a bargain at $3M for his consistency and with a little upside in the power department. He’s an even better bargain if he’s cheaper.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
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Roger McDowell Hot Foot
2 months 8 days ago

What makes you think last season was the defensive outlier? As someone who watched him play I’d say at least that -15 is more or less exactly how bad he looked, it doesn’t seem like an obviously noisy/non-true-talent number to me. If he looks to the eye like he’s getting worse at fielding, and he looks to the stats like he’s getting worse at fielding…

Joeys Bat Flip
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Joeys Bat Flip
2 months 7 days ago

“Only 13 NL shortstops posted 1 WAR or more last year, that figure was 15 in 2014 and 12 in 2013. A decent shortstop is hard to find.”

What? How many shortstops do you think play in the NL? Last season there were only 15 who had more than 400 PAs, and 13 of them had 1 or more WAR. WAR is a counting stat, so you only get to a given threshold (like 1.0) by playing enough. Last season only Zack Cozart and Corey Seager had fewer than 100 PAs and still made it to 1.0 WAR.

In other words, finding a shortstop who can get to 1.0 WAR is typically just a question of finding someone who can keep their day job. And Tejada lost his (yes, it’s true, he lost his to a pretty talented Flores, but that doesn’t actually change anything for St Louis and how talented they should think that he is).

Brian P. Mangan
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Brian P. Mangan
2 months 7 days ago

I shouldn’t have to explain this, but I am aware that WAR is a counting stat.

There were also 3 shortstops with 550+ PA who failed to post 1 WAR. Teams were stuck with the likes of Jordy Mercer, Eugenio Suarez, Alexi Amarista, Clint Barmes, Daniel Descalso, and Ehire Adrianza for between 430 and 134 PA last season.

There are only half a dozen NL teams who are set at SS with a guy clearly better than Tejada (Seager, Crawford, Russell, Kang…?), some that are likely better, but many whose starter — not to mention contingency plan — is worse.

troybruno
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troybruno
2 months 7 days ago

” but many whose starter — not to mention contingency plan — is worse”

sorry, who are these teams? I’ll spot you the Brewers, but also note that Villar is projected to have about the same WAR/600 as Tejada…

who are the others? or is this just a really bad straw man?

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
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Roger McDowell Hot Foot
2 months 7 days ago

Yeah, I’d like to see the list of starting NL shortstops you think are clearly worse than Tejada. I just looked over the depth charts in both leagues and I can’t see a single one.

Brian P. Mangan
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Brian P. Mangan
2 months 7 days ago

Let’s say you buy Tejada as a 1.8 WAR/600 type of shortstop. He posted 1.3 and 1.0 in the last two years over an average of 413 PA each season. I do buy him as such, with high floor and low ceiling.

http://www.fangraphs.com/projections.aspx?pos=ss&stats=bat&type=zips&team=0&lg=nl&players=0&sort=24,d

1.8 would already put him 12th in the NL … but uh oh … Peralta is hurt, so is Cabrera, Trea Turner is in the minors and Javier Baez plays second base. The Rockies have Story, who is promising, and Reyes who has been very bad and might be in jail.

I don’t think Tejada is a star, but I’d put most of the NL starters in the “probably better than Tejada” category but not by much. To answer, and factoring in price, you could take him over Alexei Ramirez, Zack Cozart, Jordy Mercer, Erick Aybar and Jean Segura.

troybruno
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troybruno
2 months 7 days ago

so boosted Tejada’s projection by +50%, then you added the variable of salary and then you listed:

Pirates (because Kang is hurt)
Mets (because Cabrera is hurt)
D’backs
Braves (because he’d be cheaper than Aybar)
Reds (I don’t know why you listed this one)
Padres

If we stick to your original point — that there are teams out there who would see him as an upgrade over their “clearly worse” starters, you’ve only really identified the Padres and D’backs. Not only are both projected to be as good as Tejada, but both are not in the market for SS.

I am still confused where you think Tejada is getting undersold….

attgig
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attgig
2 months 8 days ago

another mets fan and also don’t understand this move. this is going to be justin turner 2.0 (though not to that bad of a degree)

stan
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stan
2 months 8 days ago

I’m not so sure the Cardinals would want him over Gyorko and Aledmys Diaz. Certainly not at $2.5M. Tejada is a decent shortstop but so are Gyorko and Diaz, and Peralta figures to be back in July so you’d figure the Cardinals would be less desperate for a SS than, say, the White Sox.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
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Roger McDowell Hot Foot
2 months 8 days ago

I’d say the Cards need depth at the position whether you think Tejada is a big upgrade or not, is the point. With him and Gyorko and Diaz you have a situation where putting the players into a competition for playing time really might have a positive effect — I generally hate armchair psychology but Tejada specifically is as clear an example as I’ve ever seen of a guy who seems to need that kind of external motivation.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
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Roger McDowell Hot Foot
2 months 8 days ago

As a Mets fan who’s soured on Tejada over time, I’ll remember fondly the time in 2010-11 when he had the pet name “Muscles” and the uncanny ability to hang in and hit with 2 strikes on the count, but I don’t see him returning to it, physically or mentally. His fielding (purely by the eye test) and his physical fitness and his apparent level of motivation/concentration have all declined to the point where I’m pessimistic on him as a major-league player at all — but that’s exactly the kind of low-stakes gamble a team with an obvious hole should be looking for. If the Cards end up cutting him after a month or two, they haven’t lost anything much, even on margin compared to playing any of their other candidates.

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
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Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
2 months 8 days ago

At the risk of sounding like a naif, where does the following statement come from?

“The Cardinals, of course, have a warehouse of magic powder that turns flawed players into superstars.”

I honestly don’t know to whom this is supposed to refer, and Dave has made this type of (half-jokey I assume) remark on multiple occasions without ever providing an example. Any guidance is welcome, thanks!

Milendriel
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Milendriel
2 months 8 days ago

Matt Carpenter is the big one. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure exactly who else, but he was definitely the most out-of-nowhere guy.

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
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Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
2 months 7 days ago

Thanks for the response!

I kinda thought maybe Carpenter, but that would of course make no sense, since he was a dominant collegiate hitter, and then an excellent minor league bat as well.

Carpenter mashed .333/.472/.662 his final year at TCU, with 51 walks versus just 24 strikeouts. Then in the minors:

2009 Low-A 132 wRC+
2010 High-A 153
2010 Double-A 151
2011 Triple-A 126

For his MiLB career, he also had an excellent BB/K ratio of 210/212. So he’s basically done exactly as well as one would expect based on his lengthy track record of conspicuous hitting success. (Like Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Altuve, Carpenter was overlooked by scouts but his stat line was all you needed to see.)

coninefan
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coninefan
2 months 7 days ago

off the top of my head, Allen Craig, David Freese (who both fell off the face of the earth after leaving STL), Matt Adams for a second, a ton of relievers…

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
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Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
2 months 4 days ago

Per Fangraphs, Allen Craig’s best season was worth 2.5, which is a far cry from “superstar.” And Craig, like Matt Carpenter, hit extremely well throughout his MiLB career, posting wRC+ numbers of 146, 129, 140, and 138 (min. 300 PA’s).

David Freese in the minors? Setting the minimum at 200 PA’s, his wRC+ registered 152, 133, 127, and 133 again. He did have one 4-WAR season in the majors at age 29, when his wRC+ was 132 — but obviously that should not have been entirely unexpected, given his MiLB track record.

Matt Adams murdered the ball at every level of baseball since he was about 12 years old, culminating in his Triple-A line of .329/.362/.624 at age 23. His overall MLB hitting performance has in fact been a substantial disappointment relative to reasonable projections. (His worst wRC+ was 138 across five minor league levels, his best 187.)

Don’t know specifically which relievers you’re referencing, but I doubt any of them come anywhere close to qualifying as “superstars.”

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
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Roger McDowell Hot Foot
2 months 4 days ago

So were you honestly confused about the joke, or cruising for an argument about it? Kind of seems more like the latter at this point.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
2 months 8 days ago

Has he cleared waivers? What if ATL picks him up, then trades either Aybar or him to the cards? Is that possible?

stan
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stan
2 months 7 days ago

Not if the Braves keep asking the same price for him. I could see the Braves picking him up purely as a buy low/ sell high option though. They seem to be picking up any cheap talent they can find at this point.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
2 months 7 days ago

Well they would have more leverage then. With 2 SS they could lower their price as they’d have ML options.

Ethbob21
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Ethbob21
2 months 8 days ago

I don’t really understand why the Cards would play Tejada over Diaz. Diaz is supposedly an average defender and tore it up after being DFA’d last year. There was an article recently on this site about Diaz being the obvious in-house choice. Why does the fact that a mediocre shortstop hitting the market change this?

Dave T
Member
Dave T
2 months 1 day ago

I assume the biggest reason is that Diaz has all of 58 AAA PA’s so far. (If you want to count the Arizona Fall League, add on another 82 PA’s.) I’ve also read some reports questioning whether his glove and arm are good enough for him to end up an everyday SS versus everyday 2B or utility IF. A confounding factor with that evaluation is that he didn’t play regularly for something like a year and half before 2014 after leaving Cuba, though, so I think that the jury is still out a bit.

Overall, though, my take is that the Cardinals organization doesn’t think that Diaz is ready yet (or at least not better than Tejada yet) and can still benefit from time in AAA. It’s in line with the team’s recent history not to rush prospects. Piscotty, Pham, Grichuk, Wong, Oscar Taveras, and Matt Carpenter all got a full season or close to it at AAA before making the MLB roster. (Matt Adams was a slight exception, but still got 276 AAA PA’s before a late season call-up.)

Pedro
Member
Pedro
2 months 7 days ago

I’ve seen 3 walk-off hits at Citi Field. Two of them were Ruben’s, and for that I am grateful. Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
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Roger McDowell Hot Foot
2 months 4 days ago

Not that it’s a big surprise to anyone, but it happened. And he’ll be paid $1.5MM by the Cardinals plus the ~0.5MM from the Mets, so it’s clear why it happened after he passed through waivers rather than as a straight trade, as discussed here. Ruben’s out a solid million so I imagine he’s not all that happy about it, but for everyone else it seems like a fine deal.

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