As part of his arbitration settlement this offseason, the Mets awarded shortstop Ruben Tejada with an extra day of service time, reports Ken Davidoff of the New York Post (via Twitter). As such, Tejada, who had previously had four years, 171 days of service time and would’ve missed free agency by a single day at season’s end, will now be eligible for free agency next winter.
The decision almost certainly stems from a potential grievance that was being mulled by Tejada’s representatives at the Legacy Agency back in 2013. It’s not clear whether a grievance was ever formally filed, but the Mets waited three days between the end of the Triple-A season on Sept. 7 and Tejada’s Sept. 10 callup to the Majors, leaving him with two years, 171 days of service time that season. Had the club called him up on Sept. 8 or Sept. 9, he’d have reached three full years of service time and qualified as a free agent following the 2016 season. Instead, the delay left him eligible for free agency post-2017.
The extra day of service time awarded in this offseason’s arbitration settlement renders that situation moot, as Tejada will now be granted free agency upon completion of the 2016 campaign after earning $3MM this year. While Tejada’s presence doesn’t add a star-caliber player to the upcoming 2016-17 free agent market, he does serve as another experienced middle infield option for clubs seeking help at shortstop and/or second base next offseason. The coming winter’s class of shortstops looks to be particularly thin, as it’ll be highlighted Erick Aybar at present. Resurgent seasons for Alexei Ramirez or Jimmy Rollins could add some appeal to that class, and the possibility of a one-year deal for Ian Desmond looms, so he could ultimately be a factor on next year’s shortstop market as well.
Tejada will be an exceptionally young free agent, hitting the market in advance of his age-27 season, which should play in his favor. However, he’s left without a path to everyday at-bats in New York this season with Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker slated to handle up-the-middle duties and Wilmer Flores serving as competition for middle infield time as well. Tejada has batted .249/.340/.330 with eight homers and three steals in a total of 826 plate appearances over the past two seasons. Defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved feel that Tejada has been about average at second base in just under 1000 career innings at the position and felt similarly about his shortstop work until a significant drop-off this past season (a year that ended in some controversy, as Tejada’s leg was fractured on an aggressive takeout slide by Chase Utley).
It’s worth noting that the Mets debated non-tendering Tejada earlier this offseason, and he could’ve faced similar considerations this coming offseason, making the entire scenario more or less a moot point. Cabrera is, after all, under control for one more season, whereas Flores can be controlled by the Mets through 2019. And while Walker is slated to hit the open market upon conclusion of the 2016 campaign, that won’t necessarily create an opportunity for more playing time, as highly touted second base prospect Dilson Herrera remains in the wings at Triple-A and figures to be under consideration for an everyday role in 2017.