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The Strike Zone

Mark Teixeira's honesty is new but drop-off isn't

Mark Teixeira, Yankees Mark Teixeira's declining production and advancing age don't bode well for the Yankees. (AP)

By Joe Lemire

Mark Teixeira made a cameo in the Broadway show Rock of Ages last Tuesday, but the Yankees first baseman wasn’t quite auditioning for a post-baseball career just yet.

Teixiera, who will turn 33 in April, is halfway through his eight-year, $180 million contract and, in a candid interview with the Wall Street Journal last Friday, acknowledged that he is “slowing down a tick” and “overpaid.”

"Agents are probably going to hate me for saying it," Teixeira told the WSJ. "You're not very valuable when you're making $20 million. When you're Mike Trout, making the minimum, you are crazy valuable. My first six years, before I was a free agent, I was very valuable. But there's nothing you can do that can justify a $20 million contract."

He’s not only honest but he’s also astute. The money paid in free agency is typically only appropriate for the first few years of a contract, when the player is presumably still in his peak, which are often years centered around a player’s age-27 season.

Consider the 14 players who in the 2012 season had a contract whose average annual value was at least $20 million and the production -- measured as Wins Above Replacement -- they contributed per dollar spent, both last season and over the length of those contracts.

$20M PlayersAAV‘12 WAR‘12 $/WinYears played w/contractWAR since$/Win since
Alex Rodriguez

$27.5M

2.2

$12.5M

5

20.9

$6.6M

Ryan Howard

$25M

-1.0

n/a

1

-1.0

n/a

Cliff Lee

$24M

4.9

$4.9M

2

11.6

$4.1M

Albert Pujols

$24M

3.9

$6.2M

1

3.9

$6.2M

Prince Fielder

$23.8M

4.9

$4.9M

1

4.9

$4.9M

CC Sabathia

$23.3M

4.8

$4.9M

4

23.5

$4.0M

Joe Mauer

$23M

5.0

$4.6M

2

6.5

$7.1M

Johan Santana

$22.9M

1.1

$20.8M

5

12

$9.5M

Mark Teixeira

$22.5M

2.9

$7.8M

4

15.7

$5.7M

Adrian Gonzalez

$22M

3.6

$6.1M

2

10.1

$4.4M

Carl Crawford

$20.3M

0.4

$50.8M

2

0.6

$67.7M

Tim Lincecum

$20.3M

1.5

$13.5M

1

1.5

$13.5M

Roy Halladay

$20M

2.5

$8M

2

10.6

$3.8M

Matt Kemp

$20M

3.5

$5.7M

1

3.5

$5.7M

WAR is fWAR, from FanGraphs.com. AAV data came from Cot’s Contracts.

(Note: Rodriguez fully opted out of his contract after the 2007 season, whereas Sabathia agreed to an extension shortly before the opt-out deadline, which is why the pitcher’s entire tenure with the Yankees is represented but not all of Rodriguez’s.)

With the going rate of one win estimated at $5 million, only four players were a bargain in 2012 (and three of them just barely at $4.9 million spent per win added) and only five have been good values based on dollars spent per win over the length of the contract. Of course, each of these players is likely to see his production slip in the coming years, meaning those contracts that seem worthwhile for now may not end up that way, if they are dragged down by poor performance in the next few seasons. For many of the players who look like an especially bad value -- such as Carl Crawford and Johan Santana -- a long DL stint hampered their productivity, but time missed due to injury is an obviously inherent risk of these contracts.

Equally interesting was another comment Teixeira made to the Wall Street Journal: "This is my 11th year. I'm not going to play 10 more years. I want 5 or 6 good ones. So that would say I'm on the backside of my career. And instead of trying to do things differently on the backside of my career, why not focus on the things I do well, and try to be very good at that? . . . I need to concentrate on what I do well. And what I do well is hitting home runs, driving in a lot of runs and playing great defense.”

He said that in recognition of his deteriorating batting average, which was .295 for the six seasons from 2004 through 2009, but has been just .256, .248 and .251 in the three years hence. His power numbers have slipped in the meantime but less so, from 16.2 AB/HR from ’04-’09 to 17.1 AB/HR in ’10-’12.

Teixeira’s contract, with its compensation guaranteed, is a sunk cost for the Yankees so he might as well continue to be the best player he can be, rather than the player his contract suggests he ought to be. That may not sit well with some fans, but it is sound -- and honest -- reasoning.
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