Back in the offseason between 2001 and 2002 the Yankees had a decision to make at first base. Either hang on to the declining, but still somewhat productive Tino Martinez, or look elsewhere. Coming off a gut-wrenching World Series loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, they reacted, some would say over-reacted, by signing Jason Giambi, the biggest free agent on the market. In retrospect, Giambi never really stood a chance with Yankee fans. Tino Martinez was a fan favorite. An unassuming, quiet ballplayer who had batted in the middle of a lineup that won four World Series in five years. In walks a long-haired, barrel-chested, former MVP with tattoos getting paid a then ridiculous sum of $120 million over seven years to replace him. That just left a bad taste in fans' mouths from jump street.
To make matters worse, Giambi had a tumultuous Yankees career. Injuries began to take their toll on him starting in 2004 when he ineffectively played in only 80 games. That same year, there was much talk around baseball that he had testified in 2003 as part of the BALCO investigation where he allegedly admitted to using steroids throughout his career, including his time as a Yankee. The fans were not pleased, and there were even whispers that the Yankees might try and use the testimony as a way to void the remainder of his hefty contract (sound familiar?). Well that didn't happen, and while, he struggled with injuries through the rest of his Yankee career, he was still an on-base machine with enough power to justify his presence in the lineup. Despite his productive bat, the Yankees never won a World Series while he was with the team and that ultimately sealed his legacy as a bust.
Which takes us to the winter of 2008. The Yankees had just missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and were shedding themselves of this contract that many thought to be an albatross. So what did they do? Naturally, they went out and replaced him with the biggest free agent on the market, Mark Teixeira, for a whopping $180 million over eight years. The money didn't matter this time because Teixeira was a slick-fielding, clean-cut switch hitter that the fans loved immediately. Of course, the Yankees winning the World Series in his first season in pinstripes didn't hurt either. So, any average fan will probably tell you that the Teixeira acquisition was much better than the knee-jerk reaction to sign Giambi. But, now that we've had a few years to think about it, is that really the case? Take a look at the first four years of their respective contracts (data courtesy of baseball reference and fangraphs):
Despite their reputations, these two guys were basically clones of one another, production-wise. What Giambi lacked as a fielder he made up for with more power and a higher walk rate than Teixeira. So through four years, it would be unfair to say one was a better signing than the other. That means that this little contest will be determined by how much faith you have in Teixeira's production over the next three years. The injury bug has bitten him to the point that this season can be thrown out and we can focus on his 2014-2016 production in comparison to Giambi's 2006-2008.
In Giambi's waning Yankee years he was worth about two WAR per year. That doesn't seem like a whole lot, something that Teixeira could surpass easily. However, he's coming off a major injury and at his age, is heading into the years of rapid decline that first basemen tend to fall into. According to baseball reference the most historically similar player to Teixeira up to this point in his career has been Carlos Delgado. In Delgado's age 34-36 seasons he was worth about 1.5 WAR per year. But who knows, Teixeira could bounce back next year and start mashing like it's 2009 all over again. There would be much rejoicing. Age and injury will always catch up, though, and come 2016, Yankees fans might be looking back on Giambi fondly while booing Teixeira out of the park.
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