Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fitting Tex for Pinstripes?

Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman wrote an interesting article today about the sweepstakes that's shaping up this off-season for the services of Mark Teixeira. And naturally, along with any talk of a big free agent is the obligatory mention that the Yankees will be an interested party. In fact, Heyman handicaps the Yankees as the early favorite:

Yankees. No shot they bring back Giambi and his .150 batting average for $26 million next year. The $5-million buyout will be the best money they've ever spent. The Yankees are believed to be interested in Teixeira and also interested in keeping him away from the team that plays eight miles to the south, in Queens. Odds: 3-2.

I'll agree with everything he said there -- after all, no one has been more of a symbol of the Yankees decline from the pinnacle than the ever-declining Giambi. With Giambi, Mussina and Pavano all off the books next season, the Yankees will be flush with free agent cash.

Plus, who wouldn’t love to have Teixeira’s big bat and gold glove in the lineup every day, especially considering how much of a black hole 1st base has been for the Yanks of late? Besides his offense, having Teixeira out there makes the Yankees a better defensive team than they've been in years. That will save plenty of runs over the course of a season.

But before we get carried away, signing Teixeria is no slam dunk. Heyman raised the first red flags:

[S]omeone who follows the markets and [Teixeira's agent Scott] Boras predicts that the asking price could begin with "2's'' as in $20 million per year and $200 million total.

No offense to Big Tex, but who wants to pay another $200 million for a player, any player? While position players have been better investments than pitchers, a 10-year contract still makes it a very, very long time to be tethered to the same player. And top of that he's a Boras client -- never a good thing. (Besides, it’s not like the Yankees and Boras are on very good terms.)

Plus, when staring down an investment of that size, the ultimate scrutiny on career numbers comes down. Not that it's necessarily an indication of future performance -- after all, he won't be facing Yankee pitching in Yankee Stadium -- but playing in the Bronx has not been a haven for Teixeira. For his career, Teixeira has batted a respectable .308 in Yankee Stadium, but with an alarming lack of power.

In 91 career at-bats at the Stadium, Teixeira has only four home runs, for a rate of one home run every 22.8 at-bats. Compare that to his current home park, Turner Field, where Tex has homered once almost every 13 times to the plate (13 HR in 177 AB, 13.4). That rate is even better than his old home ballpark in Arlington, where he clubbed 84 homers in 1,316 at-bats, a rate of one homer every 15.6 times up. And that 22.8 mark comes even though he's hit home runs at a better rate left-handed (one every 16 AB) than right-handed (19 AB). Apparently, Yankee Stadium's friendly right-field porch hasn't done much for him.

So what does it all mean? Teixeira would look great in a Yankee uniform, and his presence would certainly help the team. But something tells me that the Boras-driven contract is ultimately going to be too steep. Even the Yankees have to have a limit.

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