JUPITER, Fla. – New Cardinal shortstop Ruben Tejada said Saturday that he chose the Cardinals over four or five other teams because of the clubhouse atmosphere and the chance to be with a winning organization.
The Cards signed the 26-year-old Panamanian to a one-year, $1.5 million contract after the New York Mets, the organization with which he spent his entire career, waived him. He earlier rejected a minor-league deal with the Yankees in hopes of landing with a big league team.
Tejada is expected to play shortstop for the injured Jhonny Peralta, who is out until about the All-Star break, recovering from surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. Peralta is in a cast for the next two weeks, and doctors have advised him not to rush his return.
Tejada through an interpreter said he was surprised by the Mets’ decision to waive him, but said he prefers to focus on the future with his new club. Currently, the Cards have Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia in camp as the primary back-ups with Aledmys Diaz, a 25-year-old minor leaguer, still in development.
Tejada broke in with the Mets six years ago and has been praised for his defense, if not his bat. The antithesis of Peralta, Tejada carries the reputation of being a light-hitting glove-first player. He has a career average of .255, only 10 home runs in 1,900+ at-bats. He does have 99 doubles in his nearly 500 hits. Defensively, 2014 was his best year (three runs saved above average), though he still doesn't have the numbers to blow the doors off in the field. Last year, he posted -15 runs saved below average, but made only five errors in 272 chances. He primarily played short (81 games). He also played second base (13 games) and third (19 games), with slightly better numbers.
The personable Tejada fractured his right fibula when Chase Utley took him out attempting to break up a double play in the National League Division Series. He said he has no lingering effects from the injury and said he was cleared for baseball activities with six weeks of the injury. The Cardinals worked him out on one of the practice fields at the Jupiter complex Saturday before he spoke to reporters.
“I came here to play and do the best I can,” he said. “Whatever my play on the field (says), I’ll let them (Cards’ staff) decide.” He said that his defense was the best part of his game, but said he has “put a lot of effort” into his offense. “It is evolving, getting better.”
While he did not talk to any current Cardinal players before he made his decision, the reputation of the organization as having a peaceful, embracing clubhouse played into his decision. “Here, I’ll be able to be relaxed and just play.”
Another factor in his decision, he said, was the fact that the organization “is always concentrating on winning, on getting a championship,” along with the fans at Busch Stadium. “The fans are always rooting for you,” he said.
The deal made sense from many angles for the Cardinals. Tejada has a .330 on-base percentage and hit a respectable .261 last season but lacks power. His defense is a definite upgrade and his versatility in the infield could ensure him a spot, even when Peralta returns. Plus, he is not eligible for free agency until after next season and may be attractive as a potential replacement for Peralta, who will be 35 when his contract ends next year.