In a year in which the Yankees spent hundreds of millions of dollars on new players, the key to the Yankee lineup may hinge on the return of a player who was already under contract, Mark Teixeira. Teixeira appeared in only 15 games last season after hurting his wrist training for the World Baseball Classic. He tried to rehab the injury before eventually going under the knife and being lost for the season. This year, the first baseman will attempt to come back and stem the tide of several seasons of declining performance. Perhaps more than any other Yankee regular, the success of his comeback will parallel the success of the upcoming Yankee season. Teixeira has the unique ability to impact a game in multiple ways via his defense, his switch hitting presence in the middle of the lineup and his power potential which in turn makes the players around him better.
Mark Teixeira is a five time Gold Glover who defense has always been the least appreciated part of his game. In 2014, a solid hand a first will help shore up an infield defense that appears on paper to be sub-par at best. With the exception of reserve Brendan Ryan, the Yankees do not have another plus defender at any other infield position. Derek Jeter, despite his six Gold Gloves, has never been considered a premier defensive shortstop and will turn 40 years old in June. Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson are both below average fielders at this stage of their careers. Then there is Eduardo Nunez, a man who brings new meaning to the phrase, “adventure in the field.” It is imperative for a healthy Teixeira to play the field on a daily basis and mitigate an otherwise defenseless infield. This will be especially true when ground ball pitchers, such as Hiroki Kuroda and Mashiro Tanaka, take the hill.
In 2009, Teixeira led the American League in Home Runs (39) and RBIs (122). His OPS has dropped every year since 2008. His batting average as a Yankee has hovered in the lower .200s each season. He is a notorious slow starter, that often heats up with the summer weather. He is clearly a player in decline as he enters his mid-thirties. However, he still can hit home runs and drive in runs. Since his rookie year in 2004, every season in which he has gotten at least 500 At Bats, he has responded with at least 30 HR and 100 RBI. That kind of production in the middle of the lineup is exactly what the Bronx Bombers were missing in 2013. Lyle Overbay exceeded all expectations, after coming over from the Red Sox on the last day of spring training to get the majority of the playing time at First Base last season, but his production pales in comparison to the “average” season a healthy Teixeira can provide.
A switch hitting power hitter is a rare commodity that strengthens and lengthens a lineup like few other things. It limits an opposing manager’s options in the latter innings by negating the effect a switch to a lefty or righty reliever might otherwise bring. He can fit in several spots in the lineup without stacking either lefties or righties together, something Joe Girardi has shown a Zen-like phobia for doing. I would probably hit Teixeira in the five hole between Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann, but a case can be made for hitting him anywhere from third to sixth. The additions of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a healthy Jeter and the returning Brett Gardner should provide a lot more scoring opportunities for the pinstripes in 2014 and a lot of RBI situations for Teixeira.
Teixeira has told reporters this spring that the wrist is fully healed and he believes he can return to his .275/30/100 form of years past. However, wrist injuries such as the one Teixeira suffered can be very tricky with recovery, often taking over year before the strength and dexterity has returned to pre-injury levels. As a reference we can look at Jose Bautista, who suffered the same injury as Teixeira in 2012. He came back in 2013 to hit 28 HRs and drive in 73 runs for an underachieving Blue Jays team, respectable numbers but a far cry from his MVP caliber seasons immediately preceding the injury. Teixeira will most likely have far greater opportunities than Joey Bats to increase his counting stats in 2014 thanks to being on a better team but the real value in having Teixeira for a full season won’t be seen in the boxscore. It will be in his exceptional defense saving runs from the errand throws of Nunez, Johnson and Jeter. It will be in the second guessing an opposing manager will have before bringing in a hard throwing righty to pitch to Soriano or a side-arming lefty to face McCann. Teixeira is primed for a big season, both inside and outside the box score.