Three months ago, the Mets looked ready to give up on their frustrating young shortstop, Ruben Tejada.
Tejada struggled at the plate, racked up errors at shortstop and hobbled off the field with a quadriceps injury that eventually cost him his job. The Mets groused about his conditioning. He returned in September only to break his right leg.
At 24, Tejada appeared to have squandered his chance to establish himself as a big-league shortstop.
But as the new year approaches, the Mets seem prepared to begin the 2014 season with Tejada as their starter at shortstop. The about-face has been brought on by a market that has presented few alternatives.
The Mets remain in contact with Scott Boras, the agent for shortstop Stephen Drew, according to a person with knowledge of the talks. But the source likened the situation to the Mets' pursuit of outfielder Michael Bourn late last winter. Bourn ultimately landed with the Indians, but not before the Mets made a serious run at signing him, mostly because he had lowered his asking price as the season drew near.
Drew remains the only free- agent shortstop who would be a clear offensive upgrade over Tejada, who hit .202 with no homers and 10 RBIs in 208 at-bats. But the Red Sox reportedly have interest in bringing back Drew, who hit .253 with 13 homers and 67 RBIs and helped Boston win the World Series.
The trade front also offers few realistic options.
Shortstops such as the Diamondbacks' Didi Gregorius and the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera are believed to be available, but those targets would require the Mets to part with high-end starting pitching. And according to rival executives, general manager Sandy Alderson hasn't been inclined to use the organization's arms as trade chips.
The Mets continue to shop first baseman Ike Davis, though he alone won't be enough to land a shortstop in a trade.
That leaves the Mets with Tejada, who has taken at least one step to rehab his image within the organization. He drew praise from team brass earlier this month for his work during a four-week offseason conditioning course. Meanwhile, J.P. Ricciardi, the Mets' special assistant to the general manager, became the latest to hint that Tejada likely will stay put. During an interview with WEEI radio in Boston on Friday, Ricciardi said the Mets are happy with Tejada at shortstop.
"He's a young player . . . a lot of young players who get to play at the big-league level early in their career, a lot of them don't realize how hard it is to play every day," Ricciardi said. "A lot of them don't realize what it takes to play every day.
"I think in Ruben's case, he got a lot early in his career and I think he's starting to realize that he has to work a lot harder than he has in the past, and he has."
Sign up for Newsday’s Mets Messages for updates directly to your phone via text, free with a Newsday digital subscription. Learn more at newsday.com/metstext.