As Mark Teixeira announces retirement, how valuable was he for Yankees?
- Mark Teixeira had a brilliant peak but most of his time in New York after signing an eight-year, $180 million contract with the Yankees was comparatively unproductive.
In a press conference at Yankee Stadium on Friday afternoon, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2016 season. Back in December 2008, the Yankees signed Teixeira to an eight-year, $180 million deal that time was the fourth-richest contact ever, behind only the two $250-million-plus deals signed by Alex Rodriguez and the 10-year, $189 million contract of Derek Jeter, both of whom he joined in New York's infield. At that time, the switch-hitting Teixeira was one of the most productive hitters in baseball, a Gold Glove first baseman and an upstanding citizen who, at 28, seemed to be a good bet to remain valuable into his late 30s. But when Teixeira retires at the expiration of that contract, he will be just 36 years old and has already collapsed into a below-replacement-level player.
Blame the rise of the defensive shift, persistent injuries or the difficulties of a switch-hitter maintaining the mechanics of two different swings—the last of which was usually cited as the reason for his near-annual slow starts. Whatever the reason, Teixeira was never the same hitter after turning 30 in April 2010. He hit .295 from 2004 to '09 (his six-year peak), but he would never again post a batting average higher than his .256 mark in '10. He still drew walks, hit for power—averaging 35 home runs per 162 games over his final seven seasons—and played excellent defense, but the sharp drop in batting average sapped his overall production.
Then in late 2012, the injuries began to take over. A calf strain limited him to four games after Aug. 27 of that year. In 2013, he appeared in just 15 games due to a tendon sheath tear in his right wrist that he suffered in spring training, then reinjured after that brief return to action. His 2014 season didn’t start until April 20 because of a hamstring strain, and a variety of other aches and pains contributed to a then-career worst .216/.313/.398 line, albeit with 22 home runs. Miraculously, he rebounded in 2015, hitting .255/.357/.548 (146 OPS+) and making just his third All-Star Game, but that season ended in late August when he fouled a ball off his right shin and fractured the bone. This year, he got off to a decent start in April, but then hit just .130/.194/.170 from April 27 to June 3, when he landed on the disabled list with torn cartilage in his right knee. He returned in late June and has perked up a bit since, but, again, his power has done most of the work in a .228/.313/.465 line.
In total, Teixeira has been below replacement level on the season and seems unlikely to generate much interest as a free agent this winter. For that reason, I suggested back in July that the Yankees should cut him from their roster as a sunk cost—a preferable option to releasing Alex Rodriguez, whom they still owe $20 million for next year. Teixeira’s decision to retire likely ends any such talk that he will be cut loose before season's end.
It’s difficult to argue that the Yankees owe Teixeira the dignity of finishing out his career with a lot of playing time over the next two months. Retro-fitting our What’s He Really Worth formula (explained here), by multiplying Teixeira’s actual on-field value in Baseball-Reference.com’s Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) by the estimated value of a marginal win* (or one win above replacement) in each individual season, we can determine just how much of that $180 million he has been worth over the last eight seasons. Note that the remainder of Teixeira’s 2016 season, should he remain active, is projected based on his performance to date. Here are those numbers. (For comparison's sake: Teixeira's contract paid him $20 million per year in 2009 and '10 and $22.5 million a season from '11 onward.)
*value of a marginal win based on the best-fit line between FanGraphs’ pre-2009 figures found here and the actual figures used by our What’s He Really Worth Formula for 2014–16.
It won’t shock anyone that Teixeira failed to earn that contract in full; some might be surprised to see that he fell nearly $70 million short, effectively earning just 61% of his salary; still others might be surprised to see that he cleared $100 million at all. It could reasonably be argued that New York's World Series win in 2009 added considerable additional value—not just in the hearts of the team's fans but in actual team revenue for the franchise—but that’s still not enough to have made Teixeira’s deal earn out.
Nevertheless, Teixeira's early, injury-plagued decline should not overshadow the excellence of his peak. From the moment he arrived in pro ball after having been drafted by the Rangers out of Georgia Tech (where he was the 2000 college baseball player of the year) with the No. 5 pick in the 2001 draft, Teixeira proved to be an impact player. With the help of his then-agent, Scott Boras, he had signed a four-year major league contract with Texas worth $9.5 million. Teixeira made his professional debut as a switch-hitting third baseman in high A ball in 2002 and hit .318/.413/.592 between the Florida State League and Double A that season. The next year, he broke camp with the major league team, making his professional debut as a designated hitter in the second game of the '03 season. With sophomore Hank Blalock having already claimed third base and All-Star Rafael Palmeiro at first, Teixeira had to hit his way into the Rangers’ powerful lineup that also included future Yankees teammate Rodriguez. After a poor April, Teixeira did just that, pushing Palmeiro to DH by midseason and finishing the year with a .259/.331/.480 line, 26 home runs and 84 RBIs.
Teixeira finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting that season and then, with A-Rod and Palmeiro gone, he emerged as a star in 2004. He hit .281/.370/.560 (131 OPS+) with 38 home runs and 112 RBIs that year to earn his first Silver Slugger and some down-ballot MVP votes. From that season through his first in New York—his age-24 to age-29 seasons—he hit .295/.385/.554 (140 OPS+) and averaged 36 home runs, 40 doubles and 119 RBIs per year and played Gold Glove-quality defense at first base, winning that award three times in those six seasons. That performance was worth an average of 5.6 WAR per season, with his best years being 2005 (72 bWAR) and '08 (7.8). In the former, he set career highs with 43 home runs, 144 RBIs, 194 hits, a .575 slugging percentage and 370 total bases, the last a league-leading total. In the latter—which just so happened to be his walk year—he set career highs with a .308 batting average, .410 on-base percentage and a 153 OPS+.
Despite that excellence, Teixeira switched teams three times from 2007 to '09. At the 2007 non-waiver trading deadline, the Rangers sent him and reliever Ron Mahay to Atlanta for a tremendous five-player package that brought shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, reliever Neftali Feliz, starter Matt Harrison and lefty prospect Beau Jones to Texas. The Braves were just three games out of first place in the National League East at the time of the trade, but despite a tremendous finish from Teixeira, they slumped in August and missed the playoffs altogether.
With Teixeira in his walk year in 2008, he was again flipped at the deadline, this time to the Angels for a far weaker return (first baseman Casey Kotchman and pitching prospect Stephen Marek). Already in first place at the time of the trade, Los Angeles won 100 games and the AL West by 21 games. Teixeira then went 7 for 15 (.467) with four walks but no extra-base hits in the Division Series against the Red Sox—his first playoff exposure—but Los Angeles was eliminated in four games.
That off-season, Teixeira signed his deal with the Yankees, who were about to open their new stadium and were coming off their first postseason-less year since 1993. In his first season in New York, everything went according to plan: Teixeira had another monster year, leading the AL in home runs (39), RBIs (122) and total bases (344); hit .292/.383/.565 (141 OPS+); won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards; made his second All-Star team; and finished second to the Twins' Joe Mauer in the AL MVP voting. The Yankees, meanwhile, won 103 games and the AL East by eight games over the rival Red Sox.
Teixeira hit only .180/.282/.311 in that postseason, but that was mostly ignored while New York swept the Twins in the Division Series—with Teixeira hitting a walk-off home run in Game 2—and then beat his previous team, the Angels, in the American League Championship Series. The Yankees wrapped up their 27th title and first in nine years by dispatching the defending champion Phillies in six games in the World Series, with Teixeira contributing a game-tying home run off Pedro Martinez in Game 2 and making the putout on the final play of the season, a groundball to second from Philadelphia's Shane Victorino.
Though he would play all but 10 games each of the next two years and top 30 home runs and 100 RBIs both seasons, Teixeira fizzled in the postseason. In 2010 and '11 combined he hit .156/.269/.289 with one home run and four RBIs in 12 games as New York fell short of the World Series. By then it was clear he had already started to decline.
Teixeira is likely to be one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2022, but he came close to having a Cooperstown-worthy peak. Looking at Jay Jaffe’s JAWS scores, the average Hall of Fame first baseman was worth 42.5 bWAR in his seven best seasons; Teixeira was worth 37.9 in his. What’s more, he will finish his career fifth all-time in home runs among switch hitters (behind Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray, future inductee Chipper Jones and a should-be Hall of Famer, Carlos Beltran) and 13th all-time in bWAR among switch-hitters, with Reggie Smith the only man ahead of him who didn’t have a Hall of Fame career.
A good guy and a source of additional entertainment via his short-lived talk-show parody “Foul Territory” and wild array of on-field expressions (if you don't believe me, do a Google image search for “Mark Teixeira faces”), Teixeira deserves to be remembered fondly for the player he was at his best, not the shell of that player he became at the end. But he should also be remembered as a cautionary tale about the dangers of investing so heavily in free agents already past their peak.