What Kind of Player Will Mark Teixeira Be After Major Wrist Surgery?

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What Kind of Player Will Mark Teixeira Be After Major Wrist Surgery?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Let's put it this way about Mark Teixeira: The New York Yankees can allow themselves to hope.

But first, the actual news itself, which involves a whispered worst-case scenario becoming a reality.

Shortly after the Yankees announced on Twitter on Wednesday that surgery had been recommended their slugging first baseman, Teixeira himself confirmed that he will indeed be going under the knife to have the torn tendon sheath in his wright wrist repaired.

Here's Bryan Hoch of MLB.com with the expected recovery time:

Basically, just what the Yankees needed: more bad injury news.

In the short term, the Yankees need to worry about filling Teixeira's shoes at first base from an offensive standpoint. Lyle Overbay has a .617 OPS in his last 35 games, which is in line with his production over the last two seasons. Sticking with him for the rest of the season is not recommended.

In the long term, the Yankees obviously need to worry about what kind of player Teixeira is going to be throughout the rest of his contract. He has three full years remaining on his eight-year deal, and the Yankees still owe him over $60 million. 

Will his surgery ensure that's going to be money well spent, or are Teixeira's days as a productive power hitter over for good?

Well, if they haven't already, the Yankees can go ahead and rule out Teixeira ever again being the player he once was. Even before he hurt his wrist, his production was experiencing a clear downward trend. From 2009 to 2012, his OPS numbers declined like so: .948, .846, .835, .807.

So it goes for older players. The conventional wisdom is that ballplayers peak in their late 20s, and Teixeira is only the latest player who can vouch for that. 

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In regard to Teixeira's injury, however, things could be worse. He's going to be out for a while, but at least he's not in the same boat as former Texas Rangers teammate Mark DeRosa.

Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com recalled DeRosa's tale of woe after Teixeira first hurt himself in March. DeRosa tore the tendon sheath in his left wrist, then re-tore it, then ruptured the entire tendon and ultimately needed two surgeries. Between 2010 and 2012, he could only play in a grand total of 121 games.

Teixeira only needs his tendon sheath fixed. B/R's Will Carroll wrote on Tuesday that such a thing is easily repaired, even if the surgery itself is delicate and the recovery "requires a full healing before any activity stresses the area."

When I reached out to him for relevant comps, Carroll floated David Ortiz and agreed that Jose Bautista is another. 

This would be our cue to get heavy on the optimism.

He didn't need to have surgery, but Ortiz was sidelined for nearly two whole months after he tore the tendon sheath in his left wrist in June of 2008. Upon his return in late July, he hit .277/.385/.529 with 10 home runs in 55 games.

Bautista, meanwhile, went through a situation in 2012 very similar to the one Teixeira is going through now. He first hurt his wrist in mid-July at Yankee Stadium, and then aggravated it when he tried to come back roughly a month later. He went in for season-ending surgery in late August.

Al Bello/Getty Images

The injury and the ensuing surgery were frightening enough to make Jonah Birenbaum of Baseball Prospectus ponder whether Bautista was damaged goods. But Bautista declared himself fully healed in January, went on a tear in spring training and is in the middle of a solid campaign now. With 16 homers in 69 games, he's on a pace to hit over 35 bombs.

Ortiz was 32 when he got hurt. Bautista is 32 now. Teixeira is only a couple months past his 33rd birthday. As such, we're not putting him up against youngsters with extraordinary healing powers. If Ortiz and Bautista were able to make strong comebacks from the same sort of injury that Teixeira is dealing with now, then so can he.

The catch is that, yeah, there are likely going to be some complications even if things do go well.

Ortiz is back to crushing everything in sight now, but he had a devil of a time in 2009 after his strong finish in 2008. He hit only .238 with a .794 OPS and struck out a career-high 134 times. His struggles might have been at least partially due to some lingering effects of his injury.

And while Bautista has been solid this year, he hasn't quite been the explosive power threat that he was between 2010 and 2012. It's still too early to conclude that he's never going to be that guy again, but, well, he might not be.

The crystal ball I bought over the Internet is still backordered, so I can't tell you exactly what the future holds for Teixeira. Assuming he makes a strong recovery, however, the safe bet is that Teixeira is going to be a somewhat lesser version of the player he was before the injury, a la Bautista now.

Since Teixeira barely played this year and wasn't totally out of the woods in regard to his injury, that would mean a lesser version of the player Teixeira was last year. In 123 games, Teixeira posted an .807 OPS and hit 24 home runs. Not great, but better than decent.

A lesser version of this player would amount to about an average offensive first baseman. Per Baseball-Reference.com, the average first baseman had a .778 OPS in 2012 and has a .774 OPS this year.

Teixeira was already progressing toward those numbers before he got hurt, so you have to think that his injury is going to take him the rest of the way there. But based on what happened with Ortiz and Bautista, I'm being cautiously optimistic that he's not going to sink too far below the average bar if I'm the Yankees. Ideally, maybe he'll get back to where he was in 2012.

Such production would still leave Teixeira well short of being worth the money he's making, to be sure. But as long as he's healthy and capable of being somewhat productive, the Yankees will take what they can get.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

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