J.P. Ricciardi says Mets are happy with Ruben Tejada at shortstop

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There’s been a lot of speculation this winter about free agent shortstop Stephen Drew potentially landing with the Mets, but the team has publicly thrown their support behind Ruben Tejada in recent weeks. Mets special assistant J.P. Ricciardi is the latest example, saying on WEEI’s “Hot Stove Show” that the team is happy with the idea of going into 2014 with Tejada as the starting shortstop.

“I think we are,” said Ricciardi when asked if the Mets were happy with heading into 2014 with the 24-year-old Tejada. ‘€œHe’€™s a young player. As Johnny can tell you, 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. 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. To his credit, he really has. But as a young player, they get to the big leagues, some things happen for them and they forget how tough it is to stay there. I think he’€™s at that stage in his career. I think next year he’€™s going to be a better player than he was this previous year.”

Tejada is coming off a nightmare season in which he batted just .202 with a .519 OPS in 202 plate appearances. The 24-year-old spent a long stretch of time in the minors after a quad injury and suffered a broken fibula after he rejoined the team in September. Still, he hit .287 with a .345 on-base percentage between 2011-2012, so a rebound isn’t out of the question. The Mets clearly haven’t given up on him, as they sent him to a fitness camp earlier this offseason, but there’s still a chance that Drew could fall into their laps if his market dwindles. As Ricciardi said, “there’€™s just not a lot of demand for shortstops” at the moment.

While Drew remains a possibility, the Mets could cross their fingers with Tejada in 2014 while waiting for next offseason when J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowrie will all be free agents.

Reds sign catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year deal

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Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports that the Reds have signed catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year contract extension. The terms: $16 million total, with a $7.5 million club option for the 2022 season that has a $500,000 buyout. He also received a $1.75 million signing bonus.

The deal buys out all three of his arbitration years — he was going to be eligible for the first time this offseason — and the first year of his potential free agency. The club option buys a second. Barnhart made $575,000 this season.

Barnhart, 26, is finishing his second season as the Reds primary catcher. This year he’s hitting .272/.349/.399 with six homers and 42 RBI in 113 games. For his career he has a line of .257/.328/.366 in 330 major league games. His real value is defensive, however. He leads the National League in caught stealing percentage and number of base stealers caught (31-for-70, 44%) and leads all players at any position in the league in defensive WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Dodgers owner Mark Walter is involved in a scandal

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The Dodgers last owner, Frank McCourt, was a mainstay of the gossip pages. The new administration has been pretty drama free since taking over five years ago. That is, until now.

Multiple outlets, ranging from the New York Post to the Wall Street Journal, have been reporting on a scandal brewing at Guggenheim Partners, the multi-billion investment firm led by Mark Walter, its CEO. Walter is also the head of Guggenheim Baseball Management, the offshoot of the firm which owns the Dodgers. Walter is the Dodgers’ named owner — the “control person” — as far as Major League Baseball is concerned.

The scandal does not directly relate to the baseball team. Rather, it involves allegations that Walter bought a $13 million Pacific Palisades home for a younger female executive named Alexandra Court:

In the past 24 hours, the company has pushed back on multiple reports that CEO Mark Walter will step down; its chief investment officer has claimed on CNBC that there’s “no tumult” at the company; and Guggenheim has denied reports on a real-estate blog and in the New York Post that Walter bought a California mansion for a younger female executive at the company.

The denial regarding who bought the mansion is a bit too cute, though, as the company only denies that Walter bought it or owns it. In fact, the mansion is owned by a holding company that also bought Walter’s personal residence in Malibu. Billionaires don’t go to closings at title company offices, of course. They buy houses through companies and LLCs and trusts and stuff. As such, the claim that Walter didn’t buy the house may be technically and legally true but entirely misleading all the same. For what it’s worth, The Wall Street Journal has reported that Walter and Court have a “personal relationship.” Walter, who is married, and the company deny this. Court is on an extended leave of absence.

Walter and Guggenheim are denying that Walter is going to step down as CEO. That remains to be seen. The question for our purposes is whether, if he steps down from Guggenheim Partners, he would necessarily have to step down from Guggenheim Baseball Management and thus relinquish control of the Dodgers. I suspect not — they’re distinct legal entities, and his departure from Partners would be unrelated to stuff having to do with the baseball team — but you never know. It’s not like he put up $2 billion of his personal dollars for the team. There are likely a lot of strings attached and contingencies involved to the arrangement.

Something to watch.