I didn’t believe the Yankees’ silence on Mark Teixeira was an indicator that they weren’t interested. Signing him made too much sense, within both the Yankees’ free-spending approach and in more pragmatic terms, as well.
Contrary to what some might think following my recent rant, I’m not generally opposed to seeing the Yankees’ sign top tier free agents. I just think they need to be much smarter about it than they have been. Their lack of long term planning often means they are forced to fill immediate holes in the lineup by taking on big contracts with players that aren’t a very good fit. For example one deal I wish they did make was for Carlos Beltran back in 2005. They knew Bernie Williams was in serious decline and that if they held off, there would not be a comparable CF available in the coming years. Indeed, the following year they found themselves in a bind and spent relatively big money on the best option available, Johnny Damon, who turned 33 that year and has been a decent offensive player when healthy but a defensive liability at the position they signed him to play. And he hasn’t been very healthy at all in the last two years, missing 40 games and nursing injuries at DH in another 70.
So, here are this Yankee fan’s pros and cons on signing Mark Teixeira (cons first):
1. Recently obtained 1B/LF Nick Swisher, whom I was excited to see receive a chance to play every day, is the biggest loser in this deal. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t obtain players like Swisher as their first choice to start at any position. Swisher, like Wilson Betemit (who was traded to the White Sox for Swisher last month) was brought in as an insurance policy in case they didn’t obtain a more marquee player in the offseason and to step in should another starter get injured. This is only a one-year problem for Swisher. If he is able to distinguish himself in part-time duty this year, he will have more opportunities for playing time as the contracts of both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui will expire after the 2009 season, leaving left field and designated hitter open.
2. The Yankees would be wise to leave 1B/DH/LF as open as possible in the short and long terms. They have several aging core position players with multiple years remaining on their contracts who might be able to continue to produce offensively but would have to move to less demanding defensive positions. The first issue is Posada. We don’t know whether or for how long he will be able to continue to be a viable starting MLB catcher. The official word is that the shoulder that ruined his 2008 season is responding well to rehab but the front office would never readily acknowledge that the shoulder was shot if that were the case. And even if it does heal up fine, he turns 38 next season and is signed through 2011. Next is Jeter. His contract is up after the 2010 season, during which he turns 36. Assuming he’s still producing offensively, the Yanks will probably give the modern face of the franchise (and link in the historical chain of Yankee greats) 4 years or so to wind down his career. He’s already lost a step at shortstop and however things work out, he will probably have to find another position before his tenure in pinstripes is finished. And then ARod is only 1 year younger than Jeter and is signed through his 41st birthday. Personally, I’d really hate to see Jeter or Posada finish their careers anyplace else and ARod’s contract is probably untradable.
3. The Yankees have proven with the greatest World Series dynasty of the last half century that you don’t need a major thumper in the middle of the lineup to reach the promised land, much less two. Through each of those 4 Championship seasons, no Yankee player hit more than 30 home runs. During his tenure with the Yankees, Tino Martinez hit over 30 twice, in 1997 and in 2001. Interestingly, those were the only two years during Tino’s first go-round in the Bronx in which they didn’t win the World Series. While superfluously adding power hitters to the lineup may be the modern Yankee way, it has not in any way shown itself to be a of model for success for the modern Yankees. It does, however, add legitimacy to complaints about the Yankees’ excessive use of their resources and chiding of their recent playoff futility despite the unprecedented spending.
Now the pros:
1. This is the Beltran deal they didn’t make in 2005. It’s a major signing that brings short, medium and long term benefits. While it would be nice to try to remain more flexible than locking up a first baseman for 8 years will allow, this player is a top talent who still has most of his prime seasons ahead of him. He will be 37 in the last year of the contract, an age at which he is likely enough to still be productive. Next year there will not be a better player who is a better fit who Teixeira stands in the way of. There will be no need to sign another Johnny Damon next offseason. There will be no search for an offensive boost during the 2009 season. Precluded are any trades for some other team’s midseason salary dump.
2. Thanks to the Sabathia and Burnett signings, they can’t do any more major damage to their 2009 draft. With the two new pitchers, the Yanks’ 1st and 2nd round picks are already gone. I assume they will now lose another, since Teixeira is a type-A free agent, but at this point who cares about their 3rd rounder? They might as well take advantage of the opportunity to sign a top tier type-A free agent without having to sacrifice a 1st or 2nd round draft pick.
3. Boosting the offense isn’t such a bad idea. Improved production from Posada, Matsui and ARod over last year should replace some of the production lost from Abreu and Giambi, but the Yanks were 10th overall in MLB in runs scored last year and that number could stand to improve. Adding Teixeira should also re-establish offensive dominance over the Red Sox, who were Teixeira’s most touted suitors before this afternoon. This should leave the Sox unable to add the marquee power hitter they were seeking –obviously, they can’t counter this move by siging Manny Ramirez. As their lineup now stands, Bay and Youkilis are fine middle-order hitters, but they won’t provide Ortiz with anything like the protection that Manny did. And there are questions about Ortiz’ health, to boot.
4. Team chemistry. Teix has a great clubhouse reputation, which is a factor the Yankees seem to be focusing on this offseason. There’s no denying that Alex Rodriguez is a bit of a head case who likely stands to benefit from another marquee name relieving some of the pressure he feels to carry the team.