‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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In December 2008, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox waged war over one of the most attractive free agent batters to hit the market in recent years. Mark Teixeira was supposed to be a ‘slam-dunk acquisition’ that could sway the pendulum of success back in the direction of the franchise able to secure his signature.
Red Sox owner John W. Henry publicly conceded defeat in the Teixeira race on December 19th, 2008 through a statement made to The Associated Press. “We met with Mr. Teixeira and were very much impressed with him. After hearing about his other offers, however, it seems clear that we are not going to be a factor,” he declared.
It was only five days later that the Yankees had procured a third expensive gift in Teixeira to along with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett who signed on with the Bombers weeks earlier. Just before Christmas Eve, the Yankees had delivered three major presents to their fan base. Although Sabathia was the biggest free agent catch, the fact the Yankees had snatched Teixeira away from their hated rivals prompted boastful celebrations.
Hal Steinbrenner spoke of the importance of landing Teixeira at the slugger’s January press conference. “A big part of Mark Teixeira — and I told Scott Boras this — is we’re not just investing in the present, we’re investing in the future, in the long term.”
Tony Massarotti of The Boston Globe was particularly let down by the decision of the Red Sox brass not to ‘strike while the iron was hot’ by extending Teixeira a more aggressive offer. “Whether or not you wanted to see Teixeira in a Red Sox uniform next year, you’re missing the point. The Red Sox wanted him and they wanted him badly. Had the Sox come out of the gate with, say, an eight-year offer for $184 million, maybe they could have gotten the deal done,” Massarotti detailed in his column days after the signing was completed.
The Red Sox’s loss was the Yankees’ immediate gain as Teixeira enjoyed great success in his first regular season in the Bronx. He slugged 39 home runs, drove in 121 RBI and batted .292 with an on-base percentage of .383. Mark’s combination of power and defense brought back memories of Tino Martinez and he captured his first Gold Glove Award since 2006.
Similar to Martinez, Teixeira was able to compile a strong regular season in his debut year as a Yankee and won the World Series without contributing much to their championship run. Martinez batted .091 in the 1996 Fall Classic and wasn’t able to manage a home run or an RBI. Teixeira’s statistics in the 2009 World Series was only marginally better as he hit .136 with a home run and 3 RBIs.
Outside of the 2010 ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, Teixeira’s postseason numbers as a Yankee have been pitiful. In his two playoff campaigns since joining the Bombers, he’s hit at a .170 clip with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 88 at bats.
His numbers as a whole have taken a slide each year as a Yankee. While still putting up terrific power statistics, Teixeira’s batting average and on-base percentage have fallen steadily in each of the past two years. In 2010, his average dropped to .256 and OBP fell to .365. This year, those statistics have again taken a nosedive as Teixeira is batting .248 with a diminished OBP of .346.
This isn’t what the Yankees expected from a player that they’re paying $22.5 million dollars annually. From his second major league season with the Texas Rangers to his first year in New York, Mark was a minimum .281 hitter. In his last two seasons before hitting the free agent market, Teixeira batted .306 and .308 respectively and carried OBPs of .400 or above.
Maybe Henry and the Red Sox knew what they were doing when they refused to raise their offer and meet Scott Boras’ demands. It appears that Boston’s patience has paid off. They were able to acquire a superior player in Adrian Gonzalez who is not only having an MVP-caliber season statistically but is doing something Teixeira hasn’t as a Yankee – contribute in clutch situations.
What is worrying for the Yankee fans is that despite winning the 2009 World Series, the Red Sox may win out in the long run with Gonzalez. He is two years younger than Teixeira and hitting nearly 100 batting average points higher this season while playing equal defense and driving in two additional RBIs. The two first basemen will always be measured against one another as they play for division rivals and earn similar wages through 2016.
Teixeira’s Yankee legacy isn’t set in stone as his contract runs through 2016. There will be plenty of opportunities for him achieve that special playoff moment. Martinez struggled in his first two postseasons in the Bronx but broke out in the 1998 World Series.
Yankee fans will be hoping that Teixeira can emulate Martinez by performing in big situations in his third playoffs as a Bronx Bomber. If he is able to put together a strong 2011 postseason, fans will forget about his poor regular season and give him a clean slate going into 2012. Otherwise, dissenting voices will grow louder especially if it is Gonzalez who comes away with MVP and World Series hardware at season’s end.
Yankee fans – has Teixeira lived up to his massive contract and earned your faith? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.