Often frustrated by Ruben Tejada's work ethic and attitude, the Mets have tried various methods to spark some fire into the guy they believe should be their long-term answer at shortstop.
On Thursday, Terry Collins went with the arm-around-the-shoulder approach.
Some 12 hours after Tejada's forgettable season ended with him breaking his right leg in an outfield collision, the Mets manager planned to meet with the 23-year-old shortstop to deliver a simple message.
"This job is his," Collins said, "but he's got to show everybody that he wants it, desperately."
Tejada has heard those words before, but Collins is hopeful that this time it will resonate far more than other years, considering just how disappointing Tejada's season has been.
Their Opening Day shortstop for the second straight season, Tejada struggled offensively (.202, 0 HR, 10 RBIs), hurt his quad and was then left in Triple-A for nearly two months after he was finished rehabbing his injury. "I think the message was sent to him that everybody is replaceable," Collins said.
The Mets waited until their Triple-A affiliate was eliminated from the Pacific Coast League playoffs before bringing Tejada back to the major-league team, more than a week after major-league rosters were expanded.
"He went to Vegas, did his rehab and when he was physically ready to go, he stayed there," Collins said, "and he stayed there, and he stayed there."
Tejada's work ethic has been giving the Mets fits ever since they decided he would replace Jose Reyes at shortstop in 2011.
General manager Sandy Alderson recently said in a radio interview that trying to get Tejada to do extra work was "like pulling teeth."
That's why Collins and Co. were eager to see whether Tejada, fresh off his extended minor-league demotion, would use these final few weeks of the regular season as an audition of sorts for next season. But Tejada's chance to make a positive impression on his bosses before they have to make a decision on his future was cut short after only seven games when he fractured his right fibula in a collision with teammate Andrew Brown in the ninth inning Wednesday night.
Tejada returned to the clubhouse on crutches Thursday before the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Giants and said the injury -- which Collins said should not require surgery -- was "big-time" frustrating, considering the circumstances.
"But I can't do anything about it," Tejada said. "Keep working, keep going forward. This year is over. I can't do anything about it."
Collins was emphatic in his belief that Tejada is the best shortstop in the Mets' system right now, which is why he believes Tejada should be in their Opening Day lineup again next season.
But, for that to happen, Collins said Tejada needs to stop taking his major-league life for granted.
"He's got to say, 'Hey look, I got to pretend I'm back in Double-A again and I'm going to go win this job,' " Collins said. "Don't walk into spring training and walk out there like the job is yours. He's got to say, 'Hey look, I'm going to get this job,' and approach it that way."
Tejada said he "learned a lot this year," but whether Alderson agrees with that statement won't be known until the Mets' offseason is complete.
Collins declined to speculate whether the Mets might try to upgrade at shortstop this winter. His job, he said, is to focus all his attention on the players he has right now, and in Tejada he believes he has someone with the talent and potential who could start at shortstop for years to come.
But whether that happens is up to Tejada.
"With the guys who are here right now, that should be his job," Collins said, "but he's got to go get it. It's not going to be handed to him."
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