Ever since the news that Jhonny Peralta would be down for several months and perhaps until the All-Star Break, rumors have swirled around potential moves the Cardinals could make to get better at the position. While Jedd Gyorko and Aledmys Diaz battled for playing time in spring, the Cardinals remained quiet. Erick Aybar and Nick Ahmed were mentioned as possibilities, and then in an interesting development, the New York Mets put Ruben Tejada on waivers. After passing through waivers, Tejada became a free agent, and after a brief courtship, the Cardinals have announced that Tejada is headed to Jupiter to compete for the recently available starting shortstop position.
St. Louis Cardinals have signed INF Ruben Tejada to a one-year free agent contract. Will wear uniform No. 19.— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) March 19, 2016
The Mets were set to pay Tejada $3 million this year, but with their signing of Asdrubal Cabrera to be the starting shortstop and Wilmer Flores still with the team, the Mets were unwilling to keep Tejada at that salary. By releasing him when they did, they owed Tejada closer to half a million dollars instead of his full salary. No team claimed Tejada and so he became a free agent. The Cardinals appear to offer him the playing time he was seeking.
He will have one more year of arbitration eligibility after this season should the move work out and the Cardinals choose to keep him beyond this season. Correction: Tejada was awarded extra service time and will be a free agent at the end of the season (H/T @IntoOptions). The Cardinals will pay him just $1.5 million for this season.
As for the Cardinals current options at shortstop, Jedd Gyorko was always going to be a stretch as a regular shortstop. He gets to move back into his role as utility infielder where he should still see plenty of playing time. As for Aledmys Diaz, he was likely ticketed for Triple-A at the beginning of the season before Peralta got hurt. The team has a desire for him to get regular at bats no matter where he is located. While it is debatable how much of an upgrade Tejada will be over Diaz as everyday shortstop, the Cardinals have found a stopgap solution that enables them to follow their original plans for Diaz's development.
Tejada is a career .255/.330/.323 hitter with a wRC+ of 86 in over 2000 plate appearances with the Mets. He is patient, but he has virtually no power. His defensive metrics at shortstop suggest he is roughly average at the position. Tejada's season ended last year when Chase Utley's nasty slide broke Tejada's leg so it is difficult to tell if Tejada will be recovered all the way on defense.
While seeing what the Cardinals have in Diaz likely has more upside for the team given Tejada's career record, it is difficult to fault the Cardinals for bringing in a major leaguer at such a low cost. Tejada's cost is low, and continuing the theme of the Cardinals' offseason, this move raises the floor for the Cardinals season, although it does not do much for the team's ceiling.