Glory to God in the highest; Mark Teixeira is coming to town.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post compares this moment to the winter of 2004, when the Yankees passed on Carlos Beltran going into his prime baseball years and then picked up Johnny Damon the following year, on the back half of his prime years.
This time, Sherman says, the Yankees got it right. But to me, signing Teixeira is more like the 2001 offseason, when the Yankees acquired Jason Giambi.
Look at the two free agents, Giambi (through 2001) and Teixeira (through 2008)—very similar stats. Prorating Teixeira’s plate appearances to equal Giambi’s, we see Teixeira is good for three more home runs per year. What is significant is that Giambi had an 18-point batting average advantage in his pre-Yankee years (.308 versus .290).
The other major difference is plate discipline. Over the course of a year, Giambi will walk around 20 times more than Teixeira and strike out 20 times fewer. Also, OPS (on-base percentage, plus slugging average) favors Giambi: .957 versus .919 for Teixeira. Giambi was the better player.
So, if you believe that the Yankees’ signing of Giambi moved them away from the solid role players of the late 1990s who got on base and knocked out starting pitchers in the fifth inning, then you should have greater concerns with Teixeira. Giambi had some very good Yankee seasons when he was healthy, but he never got the brass ring.
It wasn’t for lack of hitting that the Yankees kept falling short in the postseason, though. It was an inability to pitch competitively in a short series, when the best pitchers throw 3.00 ERA games on four days’ rest.
Teixeira will do good things for the Yankees. We have not seen a 3-6-3 double play in New York since Mattingly. Hopefully, the Yankees will bat him behind Alex Rodriguez and in front of a healthy Hideki Matsui (who is being shopped at this moment).
Damon-Jeter-Rodriguez-Teixeira-Matsui-Cano-Posada-Nady-Cabrera is pretty formidable. One of the keys to Rodriguez hitting to his potential is to see more pitches in the zone. Last season, he was swinging at pitches in the dirt. Having Teixeira behind him can help. If A-Rod doesn’t get his usual odd-year MVP, then we can all write about Madonna and Oedipus.
By the way, I think that Cabrera is a better hitter right now than Gardner and he is a decent center fielder. Gardner cannot turn on major league pitching—yet.
The Yankees do not need another lefty bat whose best act at the plate is a ricochet shot to left field. When Jeter hits to the opposite field in right, Damon winds up on third base. When Gardner hits to left field, Posada or Nady stops at second.
The prospect of seeing 40 games a year with Molina, Swisher, and Gardner coming to bat in the ninth inning was sickening me for a while. Swisher is unjustifiable—Richie Sexson redux.
First basemen/corner outfielders are supposed to carry the team at the plate. These are your low-skill defensive positions that allow for players of exceptional offensive ability (think Mo Vaughn). A player who hits .219 on a good team must be the second coming of Ozzie Smith.
The real Christmas present for Yankee fans in the signing of Teixeira is that he is not going to Boston for eight years. Surrounding him in the next few years with Pedroia, Ellsbury, Ortiz, Lowell, Youkilis, and Drew is equally intimidating as the Yankee lineup. Teixeira to the Angels, I would say “Let him go.”
Let me close with a few irrelevant thoughts about how I wanted this winter to go. If I were king of the world, after establishing world peace and before monetizing my throne, I would move Jeter to center field and put Matsui on first base, then sign Manny at designated hitter for three years at $22 million per season.
Jeter would be a great center fielder with his jump, speed, and arm strength. Sooner or later, Jeter will be moving off of shortstop; why not now, when center field is open?
Matsui is an excellent athlete with very good instincts and first-step reflexes. Matsui is too young and too athletic to be wasted at DH.
For shortstop, I would have brought in Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera, or Rafael Furcal and punted.