Replacement level is an important concept. It provides the baseline without which WAR (Wins Above Replacement) would be a meaningless number. A replacement player is a player you could easily acquire for the minimum salary or surrender minimal assets for in a trade. A team of replacement players would theoretically win about 48 games. Like most theoretical concepts, there are certain frictions in the market that prevent the theory from operating smoothly. Player development, the clubhouse, and the 40-man roster all need to be taken into consideration.
The Mets' offseason strategy appeared obvious at a certain point this winter. They weren't going to be big spenders and instead would use their limited funds to bring in as many competent major leaguers as possible. Depth was the goal, or so it seemed. At no point was this clearer than when they signed Asdrubal Cabrera, a player who wasn't an obvious upgrade over the incumbents but whose addition deepened the bench and gave the Mets some actual flexibility on the 25-man roster. Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores, decent starters in their own right, gave the Mets solid depth at every position on the infield. Of course, the offseason narrative was turned on its head with the sudden signing of Yoenis Cespedes. But with Alejandro de Aza now relegated to full-time bench duty, the Mets had constructed one of the deepest 25-man rosters in the league.
This strategy made sense, especially given the number of injuries the Mets have sustained over the years. According to ManGamesLost.com, the Mets are in the top five in games lost to injuries since 2010, and were actually second in games lost just last year. So you can imagine my shock when the Mets voluntarily released Tejada, a solid second-division starter and capable backup shortstop, as if players of his ilk grow on trees.
I don't want to make it sound like I think Tejada is some great player. He's not, and I barely like him. But his value is inescapable. Per Fangraphs, he's been worth over one win (fWAR) in four of the last five seasons. The same would be true at Baseball-Reference (bWAR) if not for an outlier DRS number that doesn't line up with my own eyes or crowdsourced metrics. Sure, he doesn't hit for much power, but his .330 career on-base percentage is above the league-wide 2015 average for position players and is well above the average .307 on-base percentage for shortstops.
Tejada is a valuable player in a vacuum—and on the open market, apparently, given he was signed by the Cardinals for well above the minimum. When you drill down and look at the Mets' roster, his release becomes even more confusing. The immediate fallout is that Eric Campbell is now presumably bumped to the active Opening Day roster. A career .231/.317/.328 hitter about to turn 29 and limited to a corner position, Campbell is the definition of replacement level. To purposefully push him to the active roster is baffling. But the issue here isn't Campbell. This is about Matt Reynolds, Travis Taijeron, Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, and Danny Muno. These are the players you are now relying on should anyone get injured. And they will get injured (Cabrera is already dinged up). The best—and most frictionless—way to have roster depth is to develop it from within, but there are serious questions about whether any of these players can perform at even replacement level, let alone the level Tejada was likely to provide.
There's a long history of discontent between the organization and Tejada, and it's through that lens that this release makes any sense. That, and maybe the chance to save a few dollars. But make no mistake, the Mets have voluntarily lowered the baseline for their 2016 team and it could come back to bite them during the grind and roster attrition of a 162-game season.