Name: Mark Teixeira
Position: First base
Born: April 11, 1980 (Annapolis, MD)
Yankee Years: 2009-present
Primary number: 25
Yankee statistics: 731 G, .253/.348/.485, 147 2B, 5 3B, 160 HR, 122 wRC+, 17.3 rWAR, 15.5 fWAR (as of 1/18/2015)
As strange as it might be to consider the now-frequently mocked Mark Teixeira one of the Yankees' best 100 players of all time, it helps to consider the context. Finding spots for active players on such lists is always a challenge, as it often becomes difficult to separate the present from the past. In the year 2015, it's understandably difficult to view the Yankees' oft-injured first baseman as one of the better players they've had in their 111-year history. However, several seasons after Teixeira plays his final game in pinstripes, it will be easier to look back on his first few years and truly realize what a productive asset they had.
Overpaid or not, Tex was a force on those playoff teams, and that's what makes him worthy of this list. He's one of the most powerful switch-hitters to have ever played this game; the Yankees certainly reaped the benefits.
The son of a Navy officer and a school teacher, Mark Teixeira was born on April 11, 1980 in Maryland, where he grew up just half an hour outside Baltimore in Severna Park. It's hardly a surprise that Teixeira became a baseball player, as several of his family members had close ties to the game. His father excelled in college and his uncle Pete Teixeira pitched two years in the Braves' system. Unsurprisingly, Teixeira grew up a fierce Orioles fan, but he always carried a strong admiration for star Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly. The Orioles' Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray might have encouraged Tex to become a switch-hitter, but it was "Donnie Baseball" who was his favorite player.
It did not take long for Teixeira to gain national attention for his hitting exploits at Mt. St. Joseph's High School. He was a tremendous hitter who thoroughly dominated the competition and attracted the eyes of the Boston Red Sox. Scouts were also quite impressed by his make-up, as he was one of the top students in his class, had a strong relationship with his parents, and overcame some serious personal adversity to excel. His mother Margy was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 16, straining the family even though she eventually made it through chemotherapy. That was not at all though, as Teixeira's good friend Nick Liebratore was killed in a car accident at age 17. Later in life, Teixeira would endow a scholarship in his friend's honor.
The Red Sox loved Teixeira's bat, and they were prepared to offer him a $1.5 million signing bonus for agreeing to be drafted by them upon his graduation from high school in 1998. The family was advised that for a player of Teixeira's caliber, this offer was a decent one but could certainly have been higher. Boston let it be known throughout the baseball landscape that Teixeira was determined to go to college at Georgia Tech. Thus, his draft stock plummeted, and Teixeira disappointingly watched as he fell to the ninth round, where the Red Sox again tried to get him to agree to the $1.5 million bonus. Frustrated by the proceedings, Teixeira declined and went to college.
Teixeira's decision turned out to be a great move, as he became a star for the Yellow Jackets. As a mere freshman, he hit .387/.468/.640 with 31 extra-base hits in just 58 games, and after earning accolades for that year, he got even better as a sophomore. Teixeira crushed ACC pitching with a .427/.540/.772 triple slash, blasting 18 homers in 66 games and hitting over .400 from both the left side and the right side. He was named the National Player of the Year, and his future as a first-round pick was essentially secured.
Not even an injury-shortened season in 2001 could affect his stock that much. Future stars Joe Mauer and Mark Prior were selected by the Twins and Cubs, respectively, with the first two picks of the 2001 Draft, and after the Devils Rays were dissuaded from selecting him since Scott Boras was his advisor, the Phillies were highly tempted to take him fourth overall. General manager Ed Wade was quite fond of Teixeira, but since he was a third baseman at the time and the Phillies had Scott Rolen, Boras told Wade that it would be a tough sign. So the Phillies instead took Teixeira's former high school teammate, pitcher Gavin Floyd, and the Rangers were the ones who got to sign the collegiate star. Boras certainly earned his money there, as Tex was given a $4.5 million signing bonus and inked to a four-year, $9.5 million contract. The Teixeira family's $1.5 million gamble from 1998 had certainly paid off.
Rapid ascent to stardom
Due to the length of the negotiation process, Teixeira did not play in the minors in 2001, but his potential alone was enough for Baseball America to rank him 10th overall prior to the '02 campaign. General manager John Hart was aggressive with his hot prospect, starting him in High-A Port Charlotte of the Florida State League. Just 38 games and a 1.005 OPS later, Teixeira was on his way to Double-A Tulsa, where he made similar short work of the Texas League, batting .316/.415/.591 with 24 extra-base hits in 48 games.
There was no denying that the Rangers had a serious asset on hand--Teixeira was named the top prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the beginning of the 2003 season. Even with a Hall of Fame caliber first baseman in Rafael Palmeiro and another promising prospect in third baseman Hank Blalock, Texas realized that sending Teixeira back to the minors after spring training 2003 would be a waste. He made the team even though they knew they had to form a 1B/3B/DH shuffle of sorts to keep all of Teixeira, Blalock, and Palmeiro in the lineup. Teixeira even played a little outfield, as hard as that is to fathom now. Seven games into his career, Teixeira went deep for the first time:
Although Teixeira began the season slowly (a trend which would continue throughout his career), he got hot as the season progressed and ended his rookie year with an impressive stat line: .259/.331/.480 with a 105 wRC+ and 26 homers, tops among all rookies. He finished fifth for AL Rookie of the Year, and the Rangers were so inspired by both his and Blalock's performances that they let Palmeiro walk away as a free agent after the season and felt more comfortable trading the best and highest-paid player in the game, Alex Rodriguez.
The move shed some serious payroll and it worked out well, as Teixeira broke out in 2004 with an outstanding season. Despite being just 24 years old, he was fifth in the league in homers with 38 dingers, batting .281/.370/.560 as the Rangers won 89 games in their best season in years. (His skipper, Buck Showalter, won AL Manager of the Year.) Teixeira won the Silver Slugger at first base, a prize he repeated in 2005 when he crushed a still-career-high 43 homers and led the league with 370 total bases. He played all 162 games for the Rangers, finished seventh in AL MVP voting, and was named an All-Star for the first time; he even homered in the All-Star Game at spacious Comerica Park in Detroit, too. Teixeira also began to earn honors for his admirable defensive work at first base, and he won the first of five Gold Glove Awards.
By then, it was clear that Teixeira was an extremely accomplished young star in the league, but he was so good that the Rangers were unsure if they should keep him as his arbitration price ascended. So after six and a half years in the Rangers' organization, young GM Jon Daniels bid him adieu in a 2007 trade deadline deal with the Braves. Although it was emotionally difficult to let their homegrown talent go, the Rangers received a tremendous prospect haul in return, led by three players who would be crucial to their back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011: shortstop Elvis Andrus, pitcher Neftali Feliz, and starter Matt Harrison (not to mention catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was later traded). Almost everything that could go right with Teixeira indeed happened for the Rangers. Now that's a draft pick.
Given the prospect cost and the fact that Atlanta missed the playoffs in both of Teixeira's seasons, the deal did not exactly work out for them. However, that was hardly Tex's fault--he was absolutely terrific during his calendar year with the Braves, hitting .295/.395/.548 with 37 homers in 157 games. With his upcoming free agency and the Braves not close to the playoff picture at the 2008 trade deadline though, Atlanta felt it would be a better move to see what they could get in return for him.
The first-place Angels jumped at the opportunity and acquired him for Casey Kotchman and minor leaguer Stephen Marek. Teixeira rewarded the Angels with the best baseball of his life. Over the final two months of the season, he was phenomenal, batting .358/.449/.632 with 27 extra-base hits and a staggering 183 wRC+ in 54 games. The Angels won 100 games and the AL West title, though they fell to the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. Again, Teixeira was hardly at fault, as he went 7-for-15 in the four games.
After a career-best .308/.410/.552, 152 wRC+, 7.8 WAR season in 2008, Teixeira was poised to become the hottest name on the free agent market that winter. He was pursued by the Angels, his hometown Orioles, and the Red Sox team that once spurned him, but the team who wound up with him was a surprise. Despite staying silent throughout much of the bidding war while they instead spent on starting pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees emerged as victors in the race for Teixeira, as they surprised baseball by coming out of seemingly nowhere to sign him to an eight-year, $180 million deal to lock down first base for them through 2016.
Slugging to a championship
Hal Steinbrenner's wallet had spoken, and Teixeira was now a Yankee. However, with a hefty salary came hefty expectations. Teixeira's first month in pinstripes was miserable, as he got off to another slow start, hitting just .192/.336/.384 over his first 29 games. Shortly after that though, his former Rangers teammate A-Rod returned to the Yankees lineup following his recovery from hip surgery. Whether it was that or simple regression to the mean, Teixeira's bat bounced back to 2008 form.
From May onward, Tex hit .304/.386/.590, and he led the league with 39 homers, 122 RBI, and 344 total bases. He was named an All-Star, won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, and he finished second to only one man in 2009 AL MVP voting. By sheer coincidence, it was one of the same few players who edged him out for the top pick in that 2001 draft: Joe Mauer. The Yankees won a league-high 103 games and the AL East title, and Tex got the opportunity to exact his revenge on Mauer's Twins in the ALDS. He had just two hits, but one of them was the most important one of his career. After A-Rod tied up Game 2 in the ninth inning against closer Joe Nathan, Tex stepped up to the plate with Jose Mijares on the mound in the 11th inning and scorched a line drive walk-off homer down the left field line:
The Yankees swept the Twins away, then took down Teixeira's old Angels teammates in a six-game ALCS victory. Six World Series games against the Phillies later, the Yankees were World Series champions for the first time in nine years. Again, while his statistics weren't gaudy, he definitely played an important role, as his Game 2 homer against Pedro Martinez helped the Yankees stymy the Phillies' Game 1 momentum and early Game 2 lead. The Yankees paid quite the price to win the World Series that year, but they such a dominant and entertaining team to watch that it was more than worth it.
Teixeira's peripheral numbers took a slight dip in 2010, but a 128 wRC+ and 33 homers were still nothing to casually dismiss. He again played over 155 games and the Yankees returned to the post-season. Teixeira OPS'd .973 in their three-game sweep over the Twins, but the season ended in disappointment thanks to an ALCS loss to the Rangers. Once again, Teixeira stayed strong in 2011 with similar numbers, even as many Yankees fans began to grumble about his hitting into the shift. Nonetheless, he finished the year with a 124 wRC+ and 39 homers for a team that won the AL East. The fact that he wasn't producing at 2008 levels anymore did not make him a bust; he was still a very productive player.
The 2012 campaign was the first to show chinks in Teixeira's armor. Between 2003 and 2011, he was one of the healthiest players around, rarely getting hurt and playing 1,374 games, a figure that was seventh-highest in baseball. Although his actual production remained roughly around 2011 levels, he missed about 40 games due to various injuries, particularly near the end of the season. He still ended the year with 24 homers and a 116 wRC+ though, so it was far from all bad. The Yankees made the playoffs for the fourth straight year and Tex hit .353 in the five-game ALDS victory over the Orioles. The Tigers' pitching silenced his bat along with the rest of the Yankees' lineup in the ALCS however, and the Yankees have not returned to the playoffs since.
The past two years have not been pleasant for Tex. A freak injury in batting practice for the 2013 World Baseball Classic led to a torn tendon sheath in his wrist that dramatically affected his swing and made it very painful for him. He tried to rehab it and appeared in 15 games for the Yankees that year, but it was clear that he was not the same. Eventually, he underwent wrist surgery, wrecking his 2013 campaign. In 2014, Teixeira returned but battled a litany of injuries throughout the season while missing about 40 games and seeing his offense drop.
How will Tex do throughout the final two years of his contract? That's anyone's guess. Perhaps he could make a comeback. Maybe he'll just struggle with injuries and have more seasons like 2014. As it stands though, Teixeira has already had a fine Yankees career, contract be damned. He was essential to the 2009 championship, a memory no Yankees fan will ever forget, and he remained a powerful force on three more playoff teams. Soon, he'll be fifth all-time in baseball history among switch-hitters in homers. He's definitely goofy, but watching Tex mash has been a thrill.
Just please bring us more "Foul Territory."
Andrew's rank: 78
Tanya's rank: 83
Community rank: 63.3
WAR rank: 83
|NYY (6 yrs)||731||3198||2743||433||694||147||5||160||499||9||4||370||557||.253||.348||.485||.834||121||1331||17.3||15.5|
Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.
Futterman, Matthew. "The Economics of Mark Teixeira," Wall Street Journal, 28 Oct. 2009 (link)
Sablich, Justin. "Not The First Time Teixeira Turned Down Boston," New York Times, 25 Dec. 2008 (link)
Yaniv, Oren. "New Yankee Mark Teixeira called a gentleman, great player who will fit in," New York Daily News, 27 Dec. 2008 (link)