Sometimes a baseball season can hinge on one flick of the wrist. In Mark Teixeira’s case it was a painful one.
Teixeira’s hallmark had always been his durability. In his first nine seasons he had never played less than 132 games and had averaged 153 games played.
But his 2012 season with the Yankees was cut short with thumb and calf injuries that limited him to a career-low 123 games played. He started spring training determined to rebound with a productive 2014 campaign.
Unfortunately, while preparing for an exhibition game as part of the World Baseball Classic with Team USA in Arizona, Teixeira took a batting practice swing that sent pain reverberating through his right wrist. He immediately knew something was terribly wrong.
Instead of starting the season playing first base with the Yankees, he was fitted for a cast and given a choice in his rehabilitation: He could have surgery to repair a torn sheath in the wrist that would end his season or he could try a period of two months of rest to allow the wrist to heal.
Teixeira, 33, elected the latter, which was the smart move because if his wrist did not heal properly he could always have the surgery later and still be ready for the 2014 season.
As misfortune would have it during the Yankees’ most injury-filled season in franchise history, Teixeira finally had to admit the wrist was not healing.
Losing a productive hitter is one thing thing. But losing a Gold Glove-quality first baseman like Teixeira was devastating.
Teixeira played his first game on May 31 but it became obvious as the weeks wore on that the “pop” in his bat was just not there. The wrist was fine batting left-handed but it ached miserably when he batted right-handed.
Finally, on June 15, Teixeira was removed from the lineup in a game against the Los Angeles Angels and he never returned. Teixeira’s 2014 season ended after 15 games and only 53 at-bats in which he hit an awful .151 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
His season was not much different from his fellow Yankee brethren as the club limped to the finish line with an 85-77 mark, tied with the Baltimore Orioles for third place in the American League East.
Well, how is Teixeira doing in his rehab after wrist surgery?
The latest word is pretty good. He has been out of his cast for some time and currently is working on exercises to give his wrist normal range of motion and he is taking only slow swings to loosen up the wrist without overtaxing it.
His schedule calls for working on strength and flexibility in December and by January he hopes to be taking full swings and hitting off a tee. In February, barring any setbacks, he hopes to be taking hacks off a pitching machine and by March he hopes to be taking live batting practice.
Teixeira plans to begin playing spring training games by the first week of March.
The veteran also said on the YES Network’s “Hot Stove” program that he will stop using a weighted bat and will cut down on the amount of swings he takes in preparing for games in order to take pressure off the wrist. Teixeira also might require more days off to rest his body and stay sharp for the entire season.
The Yankees signed Teixeira to a eight-year, $180-million free-agent contract in 2009. In his first three healthy seasons with the club, Teixeira has averaged 37 home runs and 114 RBIs. But in that time his batting averages have dipped from .292 in 2009, to .256 in 2010 to .248 in 2011.
While Teixeira briefly toyed with the idea of dropping his pull approach he has simply embraced the fact that he is paid to hit homers and produce runs and he is no longer too concerned about his average anymore.
Also during his first four seasons, Teixeira managed to make two All-Star teams, win a Silver Slugger award in 2009 and selected for three Gold Gloves (2009, 2010 and 2012).
For all the production Teixeira provides as a switch-hitter in the middle of the lineup, it is his defense that draws rave reviews from teammates and fans. The former third baseman simply has dynamic range, exceptional agility and a great pair of hands.
He can take away extra-base hits with ease and scoop throws in the dirt to save his fellow infielders errors. Though many fans believe Don Mattingly was the best fielding first baseman in Yankee history, Tex’s five Gold Gloves at least put him in the argument.
The Yankees missed Teixeira dearly last season.
They were forced to sign 37-year-old journeyman Lyle Overbay to fill in for Teixeira in the final week of spring training. Though Overbay could come close to Teixeira with his glove, he was a definite step down in power and in production.
Overbay hit .240 with just 14 homers and 59 RBIs in 142 games. Though Overbay handled right-handers by posting a .258 mark. He only was able to hit .190 and was woefully overmatched by lefties. Because the Yankees did not have a right-handed hitting option after they lost Kevin Youkilis to a recurrence of a nagging back injury on June 13, the Yankees were forced to use Overbay every day and they paid dearly for it.
The Yankees’ current roster lists veteran outfielder Vernon Wells as the backup at first base. But Wells has made only one start at the position in his career and that was last season with the Yankees.
The Yankees might consider re-signing corner infielder Mark Reynolds, who hit .238 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 36 games after the Yankees signed him as a free agent on July 19.
Reynolds, 30, made 24 starts at first and 14 at third base for the Yankees. He could become the starter at third base should Alex Rodriguez end up being suspended by Major League Baseball as part of the Biogenesis scandal. An arbitrator has heard the case but he is not expected to rule until December.
The Yankees also might have an interest in former Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young.
It does not appear the Yankees have much interest in free agent first basemen Kendrys Morales, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau or Carlos Pena. They would cost top dollar to sign any of them and they would not play much behind Teixeira in any event.
There is not much help at first base in the minor leagues because the Yankees used journeyman Dan Johnson at first at Triple-A Scranton last season. Johnson did hit .250 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs in 138 games but he is not much of a prospect at age 34.
Kyle Roller, 25, batted .253 with 17 home runs and 69 RBIs at Double-A Trenton but he is at least two years away from making an impact.
So the Yankees will definitely have look for corner infield support for both Rodriguez and Teixiera this winter.
Tex’s days of playing 158 games appear to be over and the Yankees do need to look at spelling him this season. He is coming off wrist surgery and that is a concern. But the fact Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays was able to come back after similar surgery in 2012 certainly bodes well for Teixiera.
As they say, the trick is all in the wrist and Teixeira plans on showing Yankee fans he is not through playing at a high level. Time is definitely on his side.