What’s my take on the Yankees signing Mark Teixeira? Regular readers might already know:
Some samples from the above:
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.
The Yankee system is nearly barren when it comes to everyday player prospects. Center fielder Austin Jackson is the only notable hitting prospect in the organization to have played above the Sally League, and catcher Jesus Montero is the only prospect in the system who projects as an elite run producer at the plate. . . . Whenever an elite run producer becomes available while still in his 20s, the Yankees absolutely must prioritize that player in order to compensate for their failure to properly stock the farm system with bats. When such a player becomes available at a position of existing need at the major league level, as is the case with Mark Teixeira this offseason, the Yankees have an obligation to their fans and the future of the franchise to sign that player.
It’s quite possible that none of the young pitchers listed above will mature into the sort of dominant ace that CC Sabathia has become, but then again, one might. In fact, more than one might. There is, however, no chance of any player in the Yankee farm system maturing into an all-around defensive and offensive weapon on par with Mark Teixeira. If Brian Cashman is serious about the team-building process he began in the winter of 2005, if Hal Steinbrenner is serious about allowing Cashman to execute his vision, the Yankees must immediately revamp their plans to focus on signing Teixeira.
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S/R – Swisher/Nady (RF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)
Take Teixeira out of that lineup and it’s not a pretty picture given the 2008 performances of Posada, Matsui, Cano, and Gardner and the advancing age of Damon, Jeter, Posada, and Matsui. . . . Oh, and before I go, here’s one more lineup to consider:
L – Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Kevin Youkilis (3B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Jason Bay (LF)
L – J.D. Drew (RF)
S – Jed Lowrie (SS)
Does it really matter? (C)
That can’t be allowed to happen.
The ideal solution to the Yankees’ production problems would be Mark Teixeira, a player who fits the Yankees’ needs about as perfectly as can be given his position, youth, and defensive reputation, the last of which stands in stark contrast to the Yankees 13th place finish in defensive efficiency among AL teams in 2008. With Sabathia off the market, Teixeira is now the belle of the free agent ball, and while it would be obscene for the Yankees to land both CC and Tex, modesty didn’t stop them from giving Burnett an obscene contract.
. . .
Still, even after the Burnett signing, chasing Teixeira is not out of the question for the Yankees. With big contracts including those of Giambi, Abreu, Pettitte, Pavano, and the retired Mike Mussina coming off the books, the Yankees still have, by my math, $23.5 left over from their 2008 payroll, which is very close to the average annual salary Teixeira’s is likely to make under his next contract, which is likely to resemble Sabathia’s and its $23 million annual average.
Would the Yankees dare hand out another nine-figure deal after spending $242.5 million on a pair of starting pitchers? Stay tuned.
The figure in that last sentence should say $243.5 million, but throw that out; it’s now $423.5 million, nearly half-a-billion dollars, for three players. That’s obscene, but Alex addressed my liberal guilt already, so I’ll not dwell on it. The reality of the situation is that, per the figures quoted above, the Yankees’ 2009 payroll is still roughly equivalent to their 2008 payroll, only the team has redirected the money they had been spending on aging players (including the declining and defensively challenged Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, the 40-year-old Mike Mussina, and the comically fragile Carl Pavano) to a 29-year-old lefty who is arguably the best pitcher in the game, a 29-year-old switch-hitting, Gold Glove first baseman who is among the most productive hitters in the game, and, well, A.J. Burnett (can’t win ‘em all). So, really, the Yankees’ spending is no more obscene than it was before they handed out these three contracts, it’s just a lot smarter (well, at least 67% smarter).
I think it’s worth pointing out that, because Teixeira has switched leagues mid-season each of the last two years, his two best seasons have been somewhat obscured. He won the Gold Glove in his last two single-league seasons (2005 and 2006), and in his last two campaigns posted these lines:
2007: .306/.400/.563 (150 OPS+), 30 HR, 105 RBI, 53.1 VORP
2008: .308/.410/.552 (151 OPS+), 33 HR, 121 RBI, 67.7 VORP
In 2008, he also drew 97 walks against 93 strikeouts. Oh, and on his career he’s slugging exactly .541 against both left-handed and right-handed pitching.
Really, the only reason not to like the Teixeira deal is the length of the contract, but Tex will still be just 36 in the eighth and final year of the deal. By comparison, Jason Giambi was 37 last year and hit .247/.373/.502. Teixeira’s ex-teammate and fellow switch-hitter Chipper Jones was 36 last year and hit .364/.470/.574. Here’s a quick look at the age-36 seasons of the top seven players listed as most similar to Teixeira at his current age 28 on Baseball-Reference:
- Carlos Delgado: bounced back from a league-average age-35 season to hit .271/.353/.518. Never had an OPS+ below 129 from ages 28 to 34.
- Kent Hrbek: retired after a poor age-34 season.
- Fred McGriff: Production fell off after age 30, but stayed comfortably above average. Hit .277/.373/.452 at age 36.
- Jim Thome: Save for a season lost to a broken hand, mashed every year through to his .275/.410/.563 performance at age 36.
- Will Clark: Had just one OPS+ below 123 from age 30 to 36; went out with a flourish as he retired after a .319/.418/.546 performance at age 36.
- Jeff Bagwell: First OPS+ below 135 came in age-35 season. Hit .266/.377/.465 at age 36.
- Willie McCovey: Often on DL after age 32, but other than his age-34 season, was still mashing when healthy. Hit .253/.416/.506 in 344 at-bats at age 36.
I’d rate those as four positive indicators (Delgado, Thome, Clark, Bagwell), one negative (Hrbek), and two middling (McGriff with McCovey only because of the injuries).
As mentioned above, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA, which projects players’ future performance based on the careers of similar players throughout the history of the game, predicted prior to last season that Teixeira would stay healthy and productive through to a .284/.384/.502 performance at age-34 (the PECOTA Cards only show the ensuing seven years). Teixeira has since beaten his PECOTA projection for 2008.
You can never know what will happen in the future. All long-term contracts are risks, but it seems to me that Teixeira is among the best bets in baseball to still be healthy and productive eight years from now. As for 2009, he’s exactly the player the Yankees need. The only catch is that having landed both CC and Tex, they’ll have no excuses if they fail to win it all next year, but then, that’s the way they like it.
. . .
By the way, Alex shot me a note to let me know that Todd Drew had his surgery yesterday. All went smoothly and he is recovering nicely. The Yankees signing Teixeira is nice and all, but getting a good word on Todd was the best news of the day, and the real reason that Christmas came early here at the Banter.