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First Base: Tex In The City

Posted By Cliff Corcoran On November 17, 2008 @ 11:04 am In Cliff Corcoran,Hot Stove | Comments Disabled

This week, Bronx Banter will be collaborating with our new hosts here at the SNY.tv Blog Network to take a look at the Yankees, position by position. We start today at first base.

2008 Yankee First Basemen

Player Starts Stats OPS+*
Jason Giambi 112 .243/.359/.485 106
Wilson Betemit 21 .229/.270/.386 60
Shelley Duncan 12 .196/.288/.326 52
5 Others 17
4 Others 0
12 players 162 .246/.349/.460 98

*adjusted for position

Organizational Depth Chart

Player Age* 2008 Stats
Nick Swisher 28 .244/.354/.451 MLB career
Cody Ransom 33 .251/.348/.432 MLB career
Juan Miranda 26 .287/.384/.449 in AAA
Shelley Duncan 29 .239/.365/.483 in AAA
Eric Duncan 24 .233/.295/.366 in AAA
Chris Malec 26 .291/.407/.412 in AA
Cody Ehlers 27 .200/.287/.341 in AA
Kevin Smith 25 .290/.337/.407 in A+
Brandon Laird 21 .273/.334/.498 in A

*on May 1, 2009

Having bought out Jason Giambi’s $22 million option for $5 million, thus ending Giambi’s seven years with the team, the Yankees had a gaping hole at first base until last week’s acquisition of Nick Swisher, which I covered in full here [1]. Swisher is coming off his worst major league season, but there’s plenty of reason to expect a return to form in 2009. Still, Swisher’s career rates of .244/.354/.451 are actually a bit shy of the .272/.353/.464 line of the average major league first baseman in 2008, and almost an exact match for the production the Yankees got out of the position last year. Swisher’s real value lies in his ability to hit like a typical first baseman while providing flexibility by bouncing between first and the outfield corners and spotting in center field when needed. As a full-time first baseman, he’s a stop-gap, but there’s no gap for the Yankees to plug. The best opportunity they’ll have to field a superior first baseman exists in this year’s free agent market.

Looking down the depth chart, the Yankees don’t have anything resembling a first-base prospect unless you count catcher Jesus Montero, who is the best hitting prospect in the system. The Venezuelan Montero, who made his full-season debut this year at age 18, could prove to be a poor fit for his current position, and is thus likely to shift to first base as he progresses through the system. Still, he has yet to play a single game at first base as a pro and would be just as good a fit at designated hitter. At low-A Charleston this year, Montero hit .293/.333/.440 as a catcher and .356/.417/.548 as a DH in a similar number of plate appearances. What’s more, the Yankees would be well advised to make every attempt to keep Montero behind the plate given the tremendous competitive advantage that a productive offensive catcher can provide.

Given all of that, there’s no good reason for the Yankees not to make every attempt to sign Mark Teixeira to a huge contract. Teixeira was third among major league first basemen in VORP last year, behind only a pair of monster seasons by Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman. Pujols is the best player in baseball, an institution in St. Louis, and signed through 2011 (if you count the club option that is all but guaranteed to be picked up). He’s also the same age as Teixeira. Berkman will be 33 on Opening Day, and is also signed through 2011 (again counting a club option for the final year). Over the past four seasons, Teixeira has averaged 55.05 VORP per season. Last year the only other first baseman to surpass that mark was Kevin Youkilis, who is 11 months older than Teixeira.

Though the Yankees are flush with pitching prospects, outside of Montero, they don’t have any coming mashers in their system. Teixeira was fifth among all hitters in baseball in VORP last year. He’s also a superb defender, and won’t turn 29 until April. Prior to this past season, PECOTA projected that Teixeira would hit .284/.384/.502 in his age-34 season in 2014. Teixeira then beat his PECOTA projection for 2008. A seven year contract that would take Teixeira through age 35 would not be a bad investment.

Consider that when the Yankees signed Jason Giambi, who is now 37, to a seven-year contract, Giambi was two years older than Teixeira is now, nearly immobile in the field, and a steroid abuser. Various injuries cost Giambi half of the 2004 and 2007 seasons, but he still averaged 128 games and 30 home runs per year over the length of his contract, and hit .260/.404/.521 as a Yankee. Giambi’s 209 home runs are tenth on the Yankees’ all-time list. Among Yankees with a minimum 1,500 plate appearances, Giambi ranks fourth in home runs per 100 PA (ahead of Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson and Lou Gehrig), fourth in Isolated Power (ahead of Mantle, DiMaggio, Maris, and Jackson), fifth in on-base percentage, total average, and secondary average, seventh in slugging percentage, OPS, and runs created per game, and ninth in offensive winning percentage.

The notion of Giambi’s contract as an albatross was both misguided and heavily based on the fact that Giambi was a liability in the field. Teixeira is a Gold Glove defender. If the Yankees accurately apply the lessons learned from the Giambi deal to their pursuit of Teixeira, they will only try harder to make Teixeira Giambi’s successor as Yankee first baseman.

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