In an effort to rebuild a flaccid lineup, the New York Yankees spent more than $280 million on offensive reinforcements this winter. The new-look attack is expensive, but won't thrive without production from first baseman Mark Teixeira.
Despite the arrivals of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees won't score enough runs in 2014 without a return to health and production from the 33-year-old Teixeira. After missing all but 15 games in 2013 due to a wrist injury, Teixeira is unsure of what kind of year he's about to have.
During a conversation with Dan Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal, Teixeira admitted to being concerned about how his surgically repaired wrist will respond, expects lingering soreness and scoffed at the confidence fellow injured athletes sometimes exhibit during their rehab.
"Any athlete that says, after a major surgery, that they have no problems, they've never felt anything, they're 100%, and they're going to be as good as ever—yeah, you can say that, but in the back of your mind, you're always thinking, OK, I still have to do it," said Teixeira.
With pitchers and catchers reporting for duty within the next few weeks, the new-look Yankees will be a national story. After scoring only 650 runs last season—the franchise's lowest total since 1990—general manager Brian Cashman spent the winter acquiring reinforcements.
Clearly, the trio of Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran will help an offense that sagged to 26th in OPS, per ESPN, last summer. Of course, their arrivals came at a cost. By allocating the free-agent resources on the new arrivals, New York made a long-term decision to allow Robinson Cano to walk away.
Coupled with Alex Rodriguez's suspension for 2014, the Yankees will need major offense from someone other than their three newest hitters.
If Teixeira is the player who suited up for the Yankees from 2009-12, the Yankees offense will likely return to their customary position near the top of the AL ranks. However, if he's a shell of himself, Joe Girardi's offense will be in trouble.
To clarify: Teixeira doesn't need to be the player he was during the early portion of his career in Texas, Atlanta and Los Angeles. That player, the one New York handed an eight-year, $180 million deal after the 2008 season, is long gone. Age, attrition and natural decline transformed Teixeira from a great player to a very good first baseman.
Expecting the Yankees first baseman to reclaim his youth (28.6 bWAR, 140 OPS+ from 2004-08) is foolish, but the team will gladly take the production he gave during his first four years in the Bronx.
From the moment Teixeira arrived in New York, he profiled as one of the best offensive first baseman in the sport. With a 126 OPS+ and average seasons of 34 home runs, 106 RBI and 68 extra-base hits, the Yankees had a force in the middle of their lineup. When you factor in his excellent defense at first base, he did enough to justify his contract.
The following chart shows where Teixeira ranked in HR, RBI, extra-base hits, games played and OPS+ during the first half of his contract with the Yankees. While that production is a far cry from his early years, it's exactly what the Yankees need now.
|Mark Teixeira's Offensive Ranks (2009-2012)|
|Stat||Mark Teixeira||Rank Among MLB 1B|
During that span, Teixeira was one of only seven first baseman in the sport to own a slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of at least .250/.350/.500, per Baseball-Reference. The other six: Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and Paul Konerko.
While the new arrivals will overshadow Teixeira's path back from surgery, the Yankees need him to play 150 games, perform and cover up the concerns around his teammates, of both the new and old variety.
In Beltran, the Yankees signed a clutch, big-game star with switch-hitting ability and the chops to cut it in New York. Behind that facade: an aging, declining hitter.
In Ellsbury and McCann, the Yankees found their new offensive leaders, prime-age hitters and up-the-middle standouts poised to help the team transition away from late-30s superstars. Yet, neither has played a full, healthy season in the last two years.
Derek Jeter's return to 200-hit form could ignite any offense in the sport, but counting on him in 2014 is a plight only the Yankees would undertake.
These roster concerns would be alleviated if the Yankees' spending spree had included retaining their best player, Cano. By watching the star second baseman leave for Seattle, New York allowed their only sure thing to depart. Without his durable, steady bat raking in the lineup, pressure falls back on Teixeira to perform.
For the Yankees, Teixeira's health and progression have been positive this winter, but even the player admits that he won't be sure of his ability until he accomplishes success in game action. Per the Wall Street Journal piece:
"I can be as positive as I can, but until I hit a 95 mph fastball that's inside, into the second deck, then I'll go, 'All right, I'm back,'" Teixeira said. "But you can't do that in a batting cage. Only time will tell."
For the rebuilt Yankees, only time will tell how much they've improved from the mediocre outfit of 2013, but this much is clear before the bats and balls emerge in Tampa, Fla.: Without production from Teixeira, the team won't reach October for the second consecutive season.