Ruben Tejada is just a short-term solution for Mets

Bartolo Colon of the Mets stands on the
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Bartolo Colon of the Mets stands on the mound in the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on Thursday, July 10, 2014.(Credit: Jim McIsaac)

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Jim Baumbach Newsday columnist Jim Baumbach

Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for Newsday. A Long Island native, he started working

It's tempting to look at Ruben Tejada's last six weeks of plus play as evidence that he can be more than just acceptable as the Mets shortstop, both now and in the future.

On the positive side, Tejada raised his on-base percentage to .357 with a 2-for-4 game against the Braves Tuesday, and that figure ranks higher than every major-league shortstop not named Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez.

But offensively, that's about the only thing Tejada has going for him -- he doesn't hit for average or power -- which is perfectly fine for a defensively sound shortstop who resides near the bottom of a lineup that can produce runs without his help.

No one needs to tell Sandy Alderson that's not the case with the Mets, despite their 18-hit performance in Tuesday night's 8-3 win over the Braves.

So as the painstakingly drawn-out process of rebuilding the Mets roster into a contender continues by the day, finding a long-term upgrade at shortstop has to remain a priority regardless of what Tejada does as the position's placeholder.

Guess what? It's only a matter of time before the name Wilmer Flores enters the conversation again.

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He was 20-for-51 (.392) with four doubles, six home runs and 22 RBIs in his last 12 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, tearing up the Pacific Coast League after the Mets sent him down when they needed a roster spot two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, outfielder Chris Young is 1-for-18 during that time frame and has all but run out of chances to make good on his one-year, $7.25-million deal.

With the Mets playing with fire by lacking a true utility infielder on their roster, they could soon cut their losses with Young and recall Flores and give him another chance to establish himself as a major-leaguer.

And once that happens, then the competition for playing time at shortstop inevitably resumes -- whether the Mets will admit it.

Remember, Tejada still has a job today because every time the Mets tried to replace him over the last two years -- and there were plenty -- they kept coming up empty.

It wasn't always that way. When manager Terry Collins was reminded Tuesday about the high hopes the Mets held for Tejada several years back, he said he thinks they're finally seeing their patience pay off.

"I think he's becoming that guy, yes," he said.

But don't forget this is the same player Alderson openly criticized last summer for his supposed lack of work ethic, saying it was "like pulling teeth" to get Tejada to do extra work.

The most recent salvo the Mets sent Tejada's way was when they called up Flores on May 8 to compete with the struggling Tejada for playing time at shortstop.

But there never was any competition. Flores failed to get comfortable offensively in sporadic playing time and Tejada started playing better almost immediately. In 46 games since the day Flores was called up, Tejada has a slash line of .274/.384/.356.

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"All I know is once Wilmer got here and started playing, Ruben got back in there and played better," Collins said. "If it made a difference, then we did the right thing."

The Mets can't say this, but it's easy to envision them as a more lethal offensive team if only Flores could hit like he did in the minors to warrant him playing every day at shortstop, thus moving Tejada into a utility infielder role.

But the way baseball works, forecasts and reality are often two different things.

That Tejada is still playing -- and playing well enough -- is evidence of that.

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