Cardinals sign free-agent shortstop Tejada

GM Mozeliak says veteran gives team 'more flexibility'

March 19th, 2016

JUPITER, Fla. -- With veteran shortstop Jhonny Peralta sidelined until at least June, the Cardinals added to their options on Saturday by signing former Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada to a one-year deal. The contract, which is worth $1.5 million and does not include performance incentives, came together quickly after Tejada was released by the Mets on Wednesday.

"He adds more flexibility to our club and allows us to not feel like we're forced to push any one person," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Clearly, he's an experienced shortstop that played on a championship-caliber team last year. That's ultimately our goal, and I think he'll fit in nicely with us."

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The Cardinals had been surveying the shortstop market since it was determined earlier this month that Peralta would need surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. Mozeliak reached out to the Mets about Tejada, who was under contract for $3 million, but never aggressively pursued a deal with New York.

That changed once Tejada cleared waivers and became a free agent this week, thereby allowing teams to negotiate a new deal. Tejada said the Cardinals were one of four to five clubs that expressed interest.

"They're searching for a championship, and that's something that you look for as a player," Tejada, speaking through a translator, said after completing his physical at the Cardinals' complex on Saturday. "I'm just here to play and do whatever they need me to do."

While Tejada has made far more starts at shortstop (397) in his Major League career than any of the team's internal candidates, the Cards have not immediately anointed him a starter at the position. Jedd Gyorko, Mozeliak said, will continue to get looks at that position this spring, as will Aledmys Diaz.

Mozeliak declined to characterize what the move means for Diaz, the 25-year-old Cuban shortstop who has had a standout spring. However, with Tejada and Gyorko seemingly able to provide sufficient shortstop coverage at the big league level, this would allow Diaz the opportunity to get a bit more seasoning in the Minors. He has played only 14 games above the Double-A level since signing two years ago.

Manager Mike Matheny informed Gyorko of the pending addition on Saturday morning, before most of the team departed for a road game vs. the Red Sox. He talked to Diaz upon arriving in Fort Myers.

"I thought they've both done a nice job," said Matheny. "I've seen some positive things out of both of them. I wouldn't say it's not them taking advantage of [an opportunity], as much as how can we increase our versatility. And, again, it's the depth to make sure that we have some players who have been around and played the position and played the position at this level."

Greg Garcia has faded from consideration for a starting job, but is still vying for a bench role as a utility infielder.

Tejada, who took the final opening on the Cardinals' 40-man roster, is considered an average defensive shortstop and has hit .255/.330/.323 over his six-year Major League career, all with New York. He described himself as mildly surprised to no longer be with the Mets, who, by releasing him when they did, are only responsible for paying Tejada one-sixth of the salary he was due.

The Mets had sufficient middle-infield depth, after adding Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera during the offseason. Tejada spent the winter recovering from a broken right leg he suffered as a result of a take-out slide by the Dodgers' Chase Utley in the National League Division Series.

Tejada played in eight spring games before his release.

"I just think when you look at this opportunity, we certainly could have stayed status quo. But here is a young man who was playing shortstop on the National League championship club last year," Mozeliak said. "That's exactly what we're trying to do. I think for him it's a fresh start. I think for him to be a part of our organization just adds immediate depth to a position. When you lose Jhonny Peralta, it's hard to replicate, but we feel like at least we're in a better spot today than we were yesterday."

Tejada's defensive flexibility -- he can also play second and third base -- will make him useful, too, once Peralta does return.

"Some people aren't as high on the metrics. I like what I've seen. I like what [I know]," Matheny said. "And I also know that he's out to get better, too. ... We need a guy to catch the ball and make plays. This is a great place for him to work and get better, and we'll see how that all plays out over time."