(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstriped Bible)
Mark Teixeira’s expected return to the Yankees’ lineup was delayed another day when the first baseman’s injured calf caused him to miss the second game of the team’s crucial first place showdown against the Orioles. Although the offense didn’t suffer from his absence last night, if the Bronx Bombers want to play in October, they’ll need the switch hitter back in the lineup sooner than later.
Not only is Teixeira extremely important to the Yankees’ pennant drive, but he also figures to play a key roll in the team’s performance over the next several years. After all, aside from Alex Rodriguez, the first baseman is the only position player to whom the Yankees are committed beyond the 2014 season. And, although Arod’s contract receives the most scrutiny, their obligation to Teixeira is comparable, albeit over one fewer season (Arod is owed $24 million per season until 2017 and Teixeira is owed $23 million per season until 2016). Granted, the Yankees’ first baseman is four years younger than Rodriguez, but Arod’s rate-based offensive performance has been similar to Teixeira’s over the past three seasons.
Since his inaugural season with the Yankees, Teixeira’s offensive performance has gradually declined. Over that span, there have been many theories for his regression, but regardless of the cause, there’s no denying the potential effect a continued drop off could have on the future of the Yankees’ lineup. With a farm system devoid of major league ready offensive players and an owner seemingly committed to a significant payroll reduction, the Yankees’ offense will be hampered if Arod and Teixeira are unable to come remotely close to providing production that matches the $47 million they’ll be paid over the next four seasons.
Another emerging concern (and, perhaps, one that is related to his gradual decline) is Teixeira’s increasing bouts with injury. Although the first baseman has never been on the disabled list as a Yankee, that’s more the result of timing than general health. In 2010, Teixeira was knocked out of the playoffs when he pulled his hamstring in the fifth game of the ALCS. Because the Yankees were eliminated shortly thereafter, the switch hitter’s absence wasn’t felt, but had the injury occurred midseason, it would have cost him about two months. Similarly, Teixeira’s strained calf, which has kept him out of the lineup since August 27, would have also resulted in a trip to the DL had it not happened just before the roster expansion on September 1.
Aside from these two more prominent injuries, Teixeira has also battled reoccurring soreness in both wrists since his first month in pinstripes. In 2009, he missed three April games with a sore left wrist, and then the following year, it was the right one’s turn to cause him problems. Even though the first baseman didn’t miss many games as a result, he required a cortisone shot at the end of the 2010 season to alleviate the pain. That should sound familiar because earlier this season, Teixeira once again injured his left wrist and eventually needed another cortisone shot to aid in his recovery.
Only because of the Yankees’ desperate situation is Teixeira’s return considered imminent, which begs the question, exactly what kind of player will the team be getting back? In the final month of 2010, the last time Teixeira battled multiple injuries, the results weren’t pretty. That season, the first baseman suffered a sore wrist and broken pinky toe, a combination that may have short circuited his monster second half. In July and August of that season, Teixeira posted OPS rates of 1.160 and 0.983, respectively, but once hampered by both injuries, his production declined to 0.694. This year, Teixeira’s aches and pains include his wrist and calf, which makes it only natural to wonder if he’ll experience similar struggles once he finally returns to the lineup. For what it’s worth, Teixeira’s OPS had been 1.017 in July, but since sustaining an inflamed wrist at the end of the month, his rate plummeted to 0.737 in August (although it should be noted that his OPS in April and June were also subpar).
There are no reinforcements on the farm and a September trade is highly unlikely. Curtis Granderson and Arod have already returned from their ailments, so Teixeira’s return is the Yankees’ last line of offense. The future is now, and, how Teixeira performs over the final three weeks could say a lot about not only the team’s playoff aspirations this season, but in the years to come as well.