The Yankees have a lot invested in Mark Teixeira…much more than the $68 million remaining on his contract. Despite missing most of last season with what has gradually become a chronic wrist problem, Teixeira figures prominently in the Yankees’ plans for 2014 and beyond, a leap of faith that may not be justified, considering the progress of his rehabilitation and historical comparisons.
Mark Teixeira is a great player. Among the 1,460 hitters who have amassed 3,000 plate appearances before their age-33 season, the first baseman is one of only 180 to record an OPS+ of 130 or greater. He is also one of only 260 batters to come to the plate at least 6,000 times during the same span. This combination of being prolific and productive should make Teixeira a good bet going forward. However, because of specific injury concerns and general historical trends, his past doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Yankees future.
Playing Time Trends, Age-34 to Age-36 Seasons, 1901 to 2013
Note: Includes all players with at least 6,000 PA through their age-32 season.
*Includes only players from the first group that had 300 or fewer plate appearances in their age-33 season.
Of the 260 hitters referenced above, over half came to the plate fewer than 1,000 times during their age-34 to age 36 seasons (the years remaining on Teixeira’s contract), and one-third didn’t even make it to 500 plate appearances. These rates become even more ominous when screening for only those players, who, like Teixeira, had an abbreviated age-33 season. Among this subset of 34 players, only four rebounded to have at least 1,000 plate appearances over the next three years, and 23 had fewer than 500. More immediately, only five of these players had at least 500 plate appearances at age-34, which is the season into which Teixeira is now headed.
The declining durability of aging players isn’t exactly breaking news. Similarly, just because hitters with a similar profile to Mark Teixeira have played more sparingly between ages 34 and 36 doesn’t mean the same fate will befall the Yankees’ first baseman. However, there is reason for concern when you combine Teixeira’s recent wrist woes with the historical trend. And yet, the Yankees don’t seem to be the least bit worried.
Not only have the Yankees seemingly ignored any semblance of a contingency plan (from as grand as Jose Abreu to as modest as Mark Reynolds), but, by letting Robinson Cano leave as a free agent, the team has placed a greater emphasis on Teixeira supplying power in the middle of the lineup. If the switch hitter succumbs to an injury, the Bronx Bombers will have to navigate another hole in a batting order that already lacks the franchise’s typical depth. At this point, it’s too late for the Yankees acquire a backup, so, if Teixeira does go down, Brian Cashman will once again be forced to the scour the same scrap heap as last season.
It’s hard to fathom why the Yankees have made no effort to protect themselves against the impact of a Teixeira injury as well the temptation to overplay him. Even if one accepts the team’s self-imposed budget as a good practice, it makes little sense to cut corners at an area with such high potential vulnerability, especially when an option like Reynolds could have been exercised for a nominal sum. Regardless of their motivation, the Yankees lack of planning means the team is depending on their first baseman more than ever, and, by doing so, they have put a good deal of their fortune in the hands of Teixeira. Now, they have to hope his wrists are strong enough to carry the burden.