The 2014 Yankees have very, very few sure things as of right now. Their All-Star second baseman in Robinson Cano is a free agent who might want a $300 million contract, their shortstop in Derek Jeter is trying to come back from multiple ankle breaks in what was a brutal 2013, and their third baseman in Alex Rodriguez is trying to save millions of dollars in his courtroom battle with the Bud Selig police. Add in the questions in the outfield and behind the plate, and the Yankees have exactly three spots that you can say are filled and feel confident about. Two of them are in the outfield with Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano. The third is Mark Teixeira.
Coming into the season, Teixeira was supposed to be a big power bat in the middle of the lineup to help make up for the loss of Nick Swisher and the injury to Alex Rodriguez. But this was 2013, so obviously that couldn't even be given a chance to happen. Shortly after Curtis Granderson suffered his first broken bone of the season, Teixeira suffered a wrist injury while working out with Team USA in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. Originally this was thought to keep him out until early May, but an MRI later revealed a partially torn tendon sheath that would possibly require season ending surgery. This was the same kind of wrist injury that Jose Bautista suffered in July of last season.
Teixeira opted to rehab and returned on May 31 against the Red Sox. He made it until the middle of June, getting just 63 plate appearances in 15 games. He hit three home runs (including a grand slam) over that time, but his wrist acted up again and he underwent season ending surgery. This was a very similar path that Bautista took in 2012. Both had a partially torn tendon sheath in the wrist. Both attempted to rehab and come back. Both came back and went down again shortly thereafter.
So we fast forward to right now, following a season where we watched Lyle Overbay play in 142 games. Teixeira is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for spring training. He has three years remaining on the eight-year deal he signed after 2008, and with so many question marks, I don't think it's an understatement to say that the Yankees absolutely need a big, healthy season out of Mark Teixeira in 2014. The question is: what are we going to get?
The Bautista comparisons seem to have been relatively accurate so far, so we'll go there again. Before suffering the injury and getting surgery in 2012, Bautista was hitting .241/.358/.527, good for an .886 OPS. This season following the surgery, he came back and hit .259/.358/.498, which was good for an .856 OPS. There was a slight dropoff in power, but overall the injury did not look to hinder him from being a productive player. Obviously every player is different and they may respond to the surgery in different ways, but it's nice to know that a player has come back from this surgery and had success.
Then we get to the matter of Teixeira himself, who in some ways has been regarded as a disappointment since signing his contract. He had his best year in 2009, hitting .292/.383/.565 and a wRC+ of 142 and coming in second in the AL MVP voting, but since then he's hit just .249/.345/.479 with a 121 wRC+. He's also going to turn 34 early next season.
Then again, Teixeira, similar to his predecessor at the position, could be more a victim of the expectations of a lucrative contract than anything else. Despite the drop off from 2009, his 9.7 WAR since 2010 is seventh among qualified first basemen in the major leagues and his 99 home runs over that period is eighth. That's with missing almost all of 2013. Maybe he hasn't been a $23 million per year player, but he has certainly been one of the better first baseman in the major leagues.
It's difficult to predict exactly what to expect from Teixeira in 2014, but I think a safe bet is that he will provide a big upgrade to what was there this season. Lyle Overbay hit .240/.295/.393 this season with a .688 OPS, and for any criticism Teixeira may get he has never OPS'd below .800 since entering the major leagues as a 22-year-old in Texas. He's not the player he was in 2009, but he's still a switch hitter with power and great defense at his position. With so many question marks, he's a player who can be a big lift to the Yankees offense when they might really need it.