ST. LOUIS -- Conventional wisdom suggests that Ruben Tejada is quickly maturing into the perfect Plan B at shortstop if the Mets lose Jose Reyes in free agency this offseason.
But Sandy Alderson, along with the rest of the team's decision-makers, are concentrating on Plan A, which involves pairing Tejada with Reyes deep into the next decade.
"The focus is still on retaining Jose," Alderson said. "But as with any situation that's open-ended, you have to keep alternatives in mind."
Though the financial obstacles cannot be overlooked, there are some reasons for optimism, and Reyes revealed another before sitting out Sunday's game against the Braves at Turner Field.
Not only have the two developed a mentor-pupil type of relationship, they share the same agent, Peter Greenberg, and already have made plans to work out together this offseason at the Long Island facility Reyes uses.
Such plans don't guarantee anything. But it does show a willingness on Reyes' part to take an active role in Tejada's development, something usually reserved for close teammates. And from the agent's point of view, keeping the two together on the Mets as one of the best middle-infield combos in baseball would be mutually beneficial.
Tejada, still only 21, reminds Reyes of himself during that maturing process, and the four-time All-Star sees a similar growth chart. The skills are there. Now it's just about adding strength and size, two of the elements that transformed Reyes into the explosive player he is today.
"I used to be 150 pounds," Reyes said, laughing at the thought. "Now I'm about 200. He's going to do more growing, and as you get older, you learn what you have to do to stay strong for a whole season."
That's again the point of emphasis for Tejada, even after saying Sunday he had packed on 15 pounds last winter at home in Panama. The rest of his game, whether he's at shortstop or second base, appears to be progressing just fine.
"This year, I feel good," Tejada said. "I'm getting more experience."
On Saturday, Tejada had two of the Mets' four hits off a dominant Tim Hudson, and also made a nifty diving stop to his left to rob Michael Bourn in briefly preserving a scoreless tie in the eighth inning. The next afternoon, subbing for Reyes at short, Tejada had four RBIs and apparently surprised Matt Diaz by driving a bases-loaded double over the leftfielder's head.
"He's going to hit some homers one of these days," Terry Collins said. "The power is there. Up here, he's been a line-drive kind of guy, but he's going to shock some people."
Tejada is listed at 5-11, 185 pounds, but in reality, he's well under in both cases. That doesn't mean he won't generate the power Collins speaks of at some point. Dustin Pedroia, after all, is officially 5-9, 180 pounds -- again, an exaggeration -- and he has 20 homers through 150 games this season.
Tejada's learning curve, however, won't be measured by how far he hits the ball. What the Mets have noticed most from him this season has been his selectivity at the plate and an ability to hit with two strikes, a fear that young players must overcome. Tejada has a .335 on-base percentage with two strikes; a year ago, it was .272.
"Experience -- there's no substitution for it," Collins said. "The more experience you get, the more confidence you get. And the more confidence you get, the better player you can become, and that's what he's done."
Notes & quotes: Angel Pagan, after sitting Sunday with a sore right quad, is expected to return to the lineup for Tuesday night's series opener against the Cardinals. Reyes also will be back and Collins intends to start him for the remaining nine games.