Last week, slugger Chris Davis re-signed with the Baltimore Orioles on a seven-year, $161 million contract. This massive deal, which will allow Davis to be paid until he is 51 years old, is the third largest contract ever given to a first baseman, behind only Miguel Cabrera's eight-year, $248 million extension with the Tigers and, you guessed it, Mark Teixeira's current eight-year, $180 million contract signed prior to the 2009 season.
The Yankees had high hopes for Teixeira, given his relatively young age of 28 and his past performance of .290/.378/.541 with an OPS+ of 134 during six years in the majors. In 2009, Teixeira's first season with the Yankees, he produced exactly to the team's expectations, as he hit .292/.383/.565 with an OPS+ of 141 and was worth 5.3 WAR. Furthermore, he hit a league-leading 39 home runs and 122 RBI, and came in second in the AL MVP voting. He also earned an All-Star Game appearance and won both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. Not too shabby, especially given that he also played a big part in the Yankees winning the 2009 World Series.
Despite his outstanding performance in 2009, Teixeira did not begin the 2010 season on a high note. In the opening month of the season he hit a mere .136/.300/.259. However, he hit well for the rest of the season, and overall finished the year with a triple slash of .256/.365/.481 in addition to 33 home runs and 108 RBI. He was worth 4.1 WAR and won yet another Gold Glove, his fourth. Teixeira also played brilliantly in the ALDS against the Twins, hitting .308/.357/.615, but regressed to hit .000/.176/.000 in the ALCS as the Yankees fell to the Rangers.
Teixeira played similarly in both 2011 and 2012, hitting .248/.341/.494 and .251/.332/.475, respectively. These years also marked the beginning of the defensive shifting trend in baseball; in 2011, teams employed 2,357 shifts, and in 2012 this number almost doubled to 4,577 shifts. As an extreme pull-hitter, Teixeira was especially affected by this phenomenon. According to Kevin Long, then the hitting coach for the Yankees, research done by the Yankees indicated that in 2011, Teixeira lost around 15 points off his average due to the rise of defensive shifts. The shift especially affected Teixeira when hitting left-handed in 2011, as he hit .389 when he pulled the ball (down from his career .455 average on hits to the pull side).
Despite Teixeira's inability to hit for average (due to the shift and the resulting second-lowest BABIP of any qualified player since that season), he still managed to be productive, although not as productive as he would have liked to be. During 2011 and 2012, he hit 39 and 24 homers respectively, and posted over 3.0 WAR in both of those seasons.
2013 and 2014 were not kind to Mark Teixeira. In 2013, he tore the tendon sheath in his right wrist prior to the season during the World Baseball Classic. He did not play for the Yankees until May, and he hit .151/.270/.340 in 15 games before re-injuring his wrist and ultimately going under the knife, thus shutting him down for the rest of 2013. He returned in time for the start of the 2014 season, but the effects of his past wrist injury continued to hamper his performance, causing him to hit a meager .216/.313/.398 for the season.
Entering 2015 spring training, expectations were low for Teixeira. He spent the offseason on a self-proclaimed "no-fun diet" in order to reduce inflammation in his body and return to his pre-injury form. He also stated his goal of beating the shift, not through hitting the other way, but through hitting more home runs, doubles, and walking more. Needless to say, his plan worked; in 2015, Teixeira hit .255/.357/.548, had an OPS+ of 147 (up from 115 in 2012, 68 in 2013, and 101 in 2014), a WRC+ of 143, and was worth 3.8 WAR for the Yankees.
During his time with the Yankees, Teixeira has developed a reputation for being injury prone, one that is not entirely unfounded. Until a calf injury late in 2012, he did a pretty good impression of one of his boyhood idols, Cal Ripken, by averaging 157 games per year over the first three years of the contract. Then he spent almost all of 2013 shut down with his wrist injury. In 2014, he suffered a hamstring injury, a re-aggravation of his wrist injury, and a toe injury following a hit-by-pitch. In 2015, he was doing his best to shake this reputation until August, when he fouled a ball of his leg and ultimately ended up fracturing his shin, shutting him down for the rest of the season.
It would obviously be in Teixeira's best future interest to stay healthy for the entire season and maintain his position as a key power bat in the heart of the Yankee lineup. However, if Teixeira does not have a great season (for what it's worth, Steamer projects him to regress greatly and hit .245/.328/.451 with a 111 wRC+), then his contract will end up being more of a mixed bag. Considering he has been over $20 million a year, then only having three outstanding years with the Yankees might not make the contract worth it in hindsight. That being said, he has only had two terrible seasons, both due to injury, and the Yankees have consistently gotten above-average production from Teixeira when healthy.
Barring a truly awful season in 2016, I for one would consider Teixeira's contract to be a success as his Yankees career draws near its conclusion (they will almost certainly not re-sign him). He has been an anchor for the team at first base, and has provided the Yankees with an impressive power bat in the lineup despite his drop in average due in part to defensive shifts. Besides, if Teixeira truly sucks this year, which seems unlikely, fans have Greg Bird waiting in the wings (ha), ready to take over as soon as he is needed.