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.
YANKEES 3, DODGERS 0
Facing an 0-2 count with Dodgers left-hander Paco Rodriguez on the mound, pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay knew that he had looked terrible swinging at two sliders. He also came close to swinging at a third slider for strike three but third-base umpire Bill Miller ruled he had checked his swing.
Rodriguez’s next slider was in the middle of the plate and Overbay won the game for the Yankees on Wednesday with a clutch two-out RBI single to center.
Overbay’s game-winner was all part of a three-run inning and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth for his 34th save of the season as New York paid back Los Angeles for their walk-off 3-2 victory on Tuesday in front of a sellout Dodger Stadium crowd of 53,013.
The Yankees entered the ninth inning of a scoreless game when Derek Jeter opened the frame by drawing a walk from right-hander Ronald Belisario (4-6). Robinson Cano hit into a fielder’s choice and Alfonso Soriano grounded out, leaving Cano at second with two out.
Manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for Vernon Wells with Ichiro Suzuki and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had Belisario walk him intentionally to bring up Brent Lillibridge.
Girardi then called upon Overbay to pinch-hit and Mattingly summoned Rodriguez to pitch to him. But Overbay’s lined single to center to plate Cano spoiled the strategy.
Overbay’s RBI also gave him three RBis in the two-game series because he had driven in both of the Yankees’ two runs on Tuesday.
The Yankees were able to tack on two unearned runs in the inning when Jayson Nix lofted a routine popup into shallow right. Though second baseman Mark Ellis was camped under the ball, right-fielder Yasiel Puig charged in to make the catch, causing Ellis to turn his head and the ball deflected off his glove to allow Suzuki and Overbay to score on the error.
The game featured a classic pitchers’ duel between Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who came in leading the National League in ERA at 1.96, and Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who had toiled for the Dodgers for four seasons (2008 through 2011) before signing as a free agent with the Yankees in 2012.
Kershaw and Kuroda matched zeros through 7 1/2 innings.
Kuroda, 39, gave up five hits and a walk while he struck out eight over seven innings to record his eighth start of the season in which he had not allowed a run.
Kershaw, 25, was touched for five hits and he walked none while he fanned five over eight innings.
Kershaw was threatened only in the second and eighth innings.
In the second, Wells and Lillibridge stroked back-to-back one-out singles. But Kershaw got Nix on an infield popup and Chris Stewart grounded into a force play. In the eighth, Stewart and pinch-hitter Melky Mesa came through with a pair of two-out singles. But Kershaw ended that threat by retiring Brett Gardner on a flyout.
Kuroda only had one shaky inning – the seventh.
Adrian Gonzalez opened the frame with a single down the right-field line but he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double on a perfect throw from Wells from right-field. One out later, Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis notched consecutive singles. But Kuroda fanned Skip Schumaker swinging to end the threat.
Boone Logan (3-2) pitched a scoreless eighth inning, getting out of a two-on, two-out jam by retiring Gonzalez on a flyout, to earn the victory in relief.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 56-51 and they remain in fourth place in the American League East, eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers fell to 57-49.
- Kuroda was absolutely sensational in limiting the Dodgers to five hits and a walk in seven innings and he deserved a better fate. In his past nine starts, Kuroda is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA. He lowered his season ERA to 2.38, which is second in the American League to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. Kuroda also has not allowed an earned run in his past two starts covering 14 innings.
- Overbay came off the bench to deliver a huge hit in the ninth inning for the Yankees. Though Overbay is hardly a match for the production of Mark Teixeira at first base, he still has provided the Yankees with some clutch hits this season, batting .248. with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs. He was 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs and two runs scored in the two-game series with the Dodgers.
- The bullpen, as it has so often done this season, kept the Yankees in the game long enough for the Yankees to get their offense going with Kershaw out in the game in the ninth. Logan did not bend in the eighth and Rivera was dominant in the ninth, striking out the first two betters he faced before getting A.J. Ellis on an infield roller to clinch the victory.
Kuroda and the bullpen shut down a Dodger team that came into the game 10-1 since the All-Star break. The Yankees were facing arguably the best starter in the National League in Kershaw. So why quibble over negatives? The Yankees could have fell nine games back with a loss so this one was a big victory. Kudos!
Mattiingly was ejected from the game in the ninth inning by Miller. Mattingly had replaced Rodriguez with right-hander Brandon League after Ellis’ two-run error. As he was leaving the field, Mattingly talked with Miller about his failure to call out Overbay on strikes on a check swing and the discussion grew heated before Miller ejected Mattingly. Television replays indicated that Miller could have called Overbay out for a swing on the pitch. . . . Alex Rodriguez will play in a simulated game on Thursday and then will begin a new minor-league rehab assignment on Friday as he prepares to start his season with the Yankees despite a potential looming suspension. Rumors persist that Rodriguez might be hit with a lifetime ban from baseball if he does not agree to accept a lengthy suspension for his role in the Biogenesis drug scandal. Meanwhile, the Yankees will have Rodriguez play in the simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he possibly could appear in a minor-league game with Double-A Trenton on Friday. Rodriguez, 38, recovering from hip surgery in January and Grade 1 left quad strain he suffered a week ago, could be activated as soon as this weekend. . . . Outfielder Curtis Granderson, who is rehabbing from a broken left pinkie knuckle, will be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday. After playing in only seven games after recovering from a broken bone in his right wrist he suffered in his first at-bat of spring training, Granderson was sidelined on May 24 when he struck by a pitch from Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos.
The Yankees will have Thursday off before opening a three-game weekend road series with the San Diego Padres.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (9-9, 4.65 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia is 0-2 with a 10.93 ERA in his past three starts against the Minnesota Twins, Red Sox and Rays. Sabathia is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his career against the Padres.
The Padres will counter with right-hander Andrew Cashner (7-5, 3.88 ERA). Cashner yielded three runs on four hits and and five walks while striking out five in six innings in a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Cashner has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 10:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, DODGERS 4
It was the 1981 World Series when the Los Angeles Dodgers had last played the New York Yankees in the Bronx and Ichiro Suzuki was a seven-year-old boy in Japan hardly thinking he would someday play a game in one of baseball’s most storied rivalries.
But on Wednesday, Suzuki flashed some legendary skills of his own past and his fellow countryman Hiroki Kuroda pitched into the seventh inning as New York spoiled the return of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly’s first visit to the new Yankee Stadium by defeating Los Angeles in front of a paid crowd of 40,604.
Suzuki was 3-for-4 – including his third home run of the season – and drove in three runs off Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu (6-3) to lead the Yankees to their second victory in a row after they had dropped five straight games last week.
Kuroda (7-5), meanwhile, held the Dodgers to two runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out two in 6 2/3 innings.
Lyle Overbay, in the early stages of replacing injured first baseman Mark Teixeira for a second time this season, got the Yankees off to a quick start against Ryu by delivering a booming two-run double off the center-field wall in the second inning to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Thomas Neal opened the frame with a singe to right and Suzuki followed with an infield single off the glove of second baseman Skip Schumaker. David Adams advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt and Overbay stroked a 1-1 Ryu fastball off the wall in the deepest part of the ballpark.
Suzuki added to the lead when he opened the sixth inning by turning on an inside fastball from Ryu and depositing it deep into the right-field bleachers to make it 3-0.
That run would become critical when the Dodgers rallied for two runs off Kuroda and hastened his departure from the game.
The Dodgers loaded the bases with one out against Kuroda and A.J. Ellis delivered the Dodgers’ first score with a sacrifice fly to center to score Hanley Ramirez, who would end up 4-for-4 in the game.
Pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston followed with a single to left that scored Andre Ethier, who had drawn a walk earlier in the inning.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Kuroda with Shawn Kelley and Kelley ended the threat by striking out Nick Punto swinging.
The Yankees then got some help from a very sloppy Dodgers’ defense, which committed a season-high tying four errors in the game.
With one out in the seventh, Jayson Nix and Robinson Cano delivered back-to-back singles off left-hander J.P. Howell. Mattingly replaced Howell with right-hander Ronald Belasario.
Vernon Wells then hit a weak popup halfway to the mound and Belasario let the ball hit the ground, but the ball rolled under his legs. Belasario recovered the ball and attempted to throw out Cano as he ran towards second base, but his throw was wide of the bag and rolled into centerfield to score Nix.
After Belasraio hit Neal with his next pitch to load the bases, he was removed in favor of left-hander Paco Rodriguez. Suzuki greeted him by serving the ball like a tennis lob into left-field for a single that scored two runs.
Ramirez got the Dodgers closer in the eighth inning by slamming a frozen-rope line-drive two-run homer to left off right-hander Preston Claiborne.
However, Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning, punctuating his outing by striking out rookie sensation Yasiel Puig looking for the final out, to record his 25th save in 26 opportunities this season.
- Suzuki flashed some of his 2001 rookie form in this game. In addition to going 3-for-4 to raise his season average to .274, Suzuki also made a sensational leaping grab on the warning track in right to rob Adrian Gonzalez of an extra-base hit in the eighth inning. Considering Ramirez homered one pitch later, Suzuki’s catch also preserved Kuroda’s lead.
- Kuroda was not at his best but he got the job done by keeping the Dodgers off the scoreboard through the first six innings. His own defense saved him in the fourth inning. Gonzalez singled to lead off the frame and Ramirez followed with a double to advance Gonzalez to third. But Kuroda escaped the jam by spearing a hot smash liner off the bat off Ethier and doubling Gonzalez off third base.
- Overbay continues to produce big hits with runners in scoring position. With his two-run double in the second inning, Overbay now has 32 RBIs, which ties him for second on the team with Travis Hafner. The Yankees need Overbay to produce, particularly against left-handers like Ryu, until Teixeira returns to the lineup.
There really was not much negative to criticize in this one. Everyone of the starters contributed offensively, Kuroda pitched well as always and the team did not commit and error in the field. What is there to criticize?
The Yankees lost the second game of the doubleheader, 6-0. For some reason the Yankees could not hit slop-tossing lefty Chris Capuano (2-4) and Phil Hughes (3-6) pitched another disappointing game. The Yankees collected only three hits.
The Yankees open a four-game home series against the struggling Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-4, 3.95 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Pettitte allowed four runs and a season-high 11 hits in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Friday. Pettitte is 16-6 with a 4.09 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Rays.
The Rays will counter with young lefty Matt Moore (8-2, 4.12 ERA). Moore has been pounded for 19 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings over his past three starts. Moore is 3-2 with a 2.57 ERA against the Yankees in his brief career.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
The one thing you could count on every season from Mark Teixeira was 30 or more home runs and 100 or more runs driven in. He had, after all, done it in eight consecutive seasons when the 2012 season began.
But for the first time since his rookie season with the Texas Rangers in 2003, Teixeira failed to reach those totals for the New York Yankees. A pulled calf muscle that limited him to only four at-bats in September took away any hope that Teixeira had to extend the streak.
It was hardly the season Teixeira had envisioned for himself after taking a lot of criticism for batting .256 in 2010 and a career-low .248 in 2011. Teixeira had pledged that he try to go back to hitting to “all fields” instead of the pull-happy approach he had developed with that inviting short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium.
He even said he might bunt against the exaggerated shifts teams had employed against him when he was batting left-handed.
That never happened, however.
In fact, once Teixeira got off to another one of his annual slow starts in April (three home runs, 12 RBIs and a .244 average), he abandoned the “all fields” idea altogether and just hit. There is no doubt he would have likely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had not suffered the injury, but Teixeira decision was also directed to Yankee fans.
He basically was telling them he was not going to be hitter that hit a combined .306 with the Rangers and the Atlanta Braves in 2007 and .308 with the Braves and Los Angeles Angels in 2008. He even was not going to be the player that hit .292 in his first season with the Yankees.
Nope. If Teixeira was to be the productive hitter the Yankees wanted him to be Yankee fans would just have to settle for .250 batting averages from now on. That is just going to be the way it is.
Teixeira, 32, is reaching the same stage Jason Giambi did after his Most Valuable Player season with the Oakland Athletics in 2001 when he hit .342 with 38 home runs and 138 RBIs.
Giambi hit .314 with 41 home runs and 122 RBIs in 2002 in his first season with the Yankees. Then his batting averages fell off a cliff to .250, .208 (in an injury-racked 2004 season), .271, .253, .236 and .247.
Teixeira is headed to similar fate and, though it does not make Yankee fans happy, it appears they will have to accept it because Teixeira has another four years on the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed with the team in 2009.
Yankee Stadium has actually become somewhat of “The Killing Fields” for Teixeira. He hit just .218 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2012 while he hit .277 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs on the road. That does not bode well looking ahead to 2013.
Teixeira is also having problems hitting right-handers. He hit only .239 against them last season while he hit .269 against lefties. That also does not look good when you consider he will bat a lot more left-handed than he will right-handed because of the dearth of quality left-hand pitching in baseball.
Like most of the Yankees last season, Teixeira also failed to hit well with runners in scoring position (.230) and with two outs in an inning (.190).
Unlike Giambi, however, Teixeira actually can play a little a defense and that is putting it mildly.
Teixeira is the gold standard of fielding first basemen. Last season he collected his fifth Gold Glove Award and his third since joining the Yankees. But the real story is how he won the award.
Teixeira committed just one error in 1,055 total chances for a fielding percentage of .999, which broke a Yankee record of .998 established by Don Mattingly in 1994 (two errors in 989 total chances). In fact, Teixeira’s .999 mark was the tenth best fielding mark recorded in the modern era (after 1900).
So to say Teixeira can play a little first base is like saying Jimi Hendrix could play a little guitar. Teixeira is simply the best fielding first baseman of his generation and there aren’t as many who are close.
Tex combines the range of the former third baseman he was and catlike reflexes that allow him to stop line drives and grounders that other first baseman would have left on the board as doubles down the line. Combine that with the fact that Teixeira saves his fellow Yankee infielders numerous errors by scooping and snagging poor throws to first, you have pretty much summed up what makes Teixeira special with the glove.
Here is another statistic for you: Teixeira committed 10 errors with the Rangers in 2004. In all of his major-league seasons since, Teixeira has not committed more than five errors. In his four seasons with the Yankees he has not committed more than four. Any way you slice it, Teixeira is very special as a fielder.
The biggest concern about Teixeira in 2013 has nothing to do with Teixeira himself. It has to do with who will back him at the position this season.
When Teixeira was injured last season, the Yankees had the luxury of being able to slide Nick Swisher in from right field or they could used veteran Eric Chavez if they needed another left-handed bat.
They will not have that ability this season. The Yankees elected to let Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians and Chavez opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. So the Yankees find themselves very thin at first base.
Of course, Teixeira has been somewhat durable throughout his career. He has played less than 145 games only twice in nine seasons. Last season was one of those.
Still, Yankee fans would feel more comfortable if the Yankees had someone like Swisher (24 home runs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA) or Chavez (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA) playing behind Teixeira just in case they are needed.
For now Yankee fans have to hope that the acquisition off waivers of Cleveland Indians utility man Russ Canzler is the answer.
Canzler, 26, had three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 in just 98 at-bats in September with the Indians in 2012.
The right-handed Canzler can play first base, left field and serve as a designated hitter for the Yankees. He does have power in that he hit 22 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 130 games with Triple-A Columbus before being called by the Indians as a late-season addition to the roster.
Though Canzler did lead the International League in doubles (36) as well as home runs and RBIs, he is still a far cry for a proven veteran backup at first like Swisher and Chavez.
General manager Brian Cashman may still be looking to find a veteran to come into camp and bolster the bench.
Slick-fielding Casey Kotchman, 29, and Lyle Overbay, 36, are still available on the free-agent market. Of course, so are former Yankees Giambi, 41, and Nick Johnson, 34, but they are real longshots.
The Yankees also might look to the trade route. The point is don’t expect Canzler to be handed the backup job. He will have competition.
Of course, that competition will not be forthcoming from the Yankees’ minor-league system.
Steve Pearce, 29, came up for a brief period with the Yankees last season and hit .160 with one home run and four RBIs in 25 at-bats after he was released by the Houston Astros and he hit .318 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
He signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles for 2013.
Russell Branyan, 37, was invited to spring training in 2012 by the Yankees as a non-roster invitee but a back injury shelved him throughout camp and he played in only 36 games last season, hitting .309 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs with Scranton.
However, Russell and his muscle bat have taken their act to spring camp with the Angels in 2013.
Addison Maruszak, 26, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs in 117 games at Double-A Trenton. Maruszak, a right-hand hitter, split time at first base with Luke Murton, 26, a left-hand hitter who hit .249 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games.
Though Murton led the Yankees’ minor leaguers in home runs, his and Maruszak’s advanced age at the Double-A level do not make them future prospects for the Yankees.
Kyle Roller, 24, hit .266 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 121 games at Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League. He is perhaps worth watching in 2013 but he does not carry a high prospect label and he is several years away from helping the Yankees at the major-league level.
Because the Yankees do not have a proven major-league backup to Teixeira and their minor-league talent is severely lacking at first base, the position ranks as one of the weakest on the roster. Cashman is aware of this and it would seem to be a priority in the coming weeks to shore up the position before camp opens.
Nonetheless, the Yankees are lucky to have a durable starter in Teixeira to man the position. If he can be forgiven for hitting .250, his 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs will be vital to the Yankees’ success in 2013. His glove actually is an even bigger asset.
Teixeira will likely bat between third and fifth in the Yankee lineup and with the loss of power hitters such as Swisher, Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for at least half the season, Teixeira is a vital piece to the Yankee puzzle in 2013. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.
There is not much behind him on the depth chart.
NEXT: LEFT FIELD
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
When you look at Mark Teixiera’s career numbers you see the amazing consistency he has provided since 2004, his second season in the majors. He entered the 2012 season as the only active player who had hit 30 or more home runs and drove 100 or more runs for eight consecutive seasons.
Teixeira, 32, was on track to make it nine this season when on Aug. 27 he incurred a Grade 1 strain of his left calf.
He returned to the lineup Sept. 8 and re-injured the calf trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended a loss against the Orioles in Baltimore. He did not return until Oct. 1, when the Yankees opened their final series of the season against the Red Sox.
Though he blasted a two-run home run in his first game back, Teixeira’s contributions at the plate during the playoffs may be limited. It is unclear how long it will take him to sharpen up his stroke from both sides of the plate.
But Teixeira’s presence in the lineup means far more than what he actually contributes himself. The lineup deepens when he is back in it and, no matter what Teixeira delivers at the plate, he provides world-class defense at first base and saves the pitchers runs and his infield teammates errors.
The only real knock on his game has been the steady decline in his batting average since he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 2009.
After hitting .259 in his rookie season with Texas, Teixeira batted .281, .301, .282 and .306 in his next four seasons. Teixeira hit .306 and .308 in combined seasons with Texas and Atlanta in 2007 and Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.
But when he joined the Yankees in 2009, Teixera found the short porch in right very inviting, much like his predecessor Jason Giambi did. He hit .292 in 2009 but since then he has hit .256, and .248.
The criticism of his low average stung a bit and Teixeira vowed this season that he would take a new approach into the season with him. He would not be a strict pull hitter, but try to go the other way with pitches. This, he hoped, would raise his average while not hurting his production.
But it was obvious early in the season that Teixeira was struggling with the new approach. In his typically slow April, he hit .244 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Teixeira abandoned the approach altogether in May and by the All-Star break he had 14 home runs 46 RBIs and a .247 average. Teixeira basically said: “I do not care what my batting average is. I am paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and that is what I am going to do.”
Judging by his numbers, Teixeira was on a pace in which he would have reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had he not been injured. Injuries are new with him, too.
Teixeira had not played less than 156 games since 2007, when he played in 132 games.
So you take two things out of Teixeira’s injury this season: No. 1, it a rare occurrence and No. 2, it is just bad luck it happened so late in the season.
Though Teixeira has fallen a notch below the elite first basemen in baseball such as Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, he is still one of the most productive hitters at his position and he is still considered the elite fielding first basemen in the game.
The proof of his fielding prowess is that Teixeira set a career low by committing only one error all season. That is not a fluke either. He has not committed more than five errors in a season since his rookie year in 2004, when he was shifted to first base by the Rangers for the first time and he was charged with 10.
The error totals don’t really measure how good Teixeira is at first base. He has unbelievable range, cat-quick reflexes, an accurate arm and an uncanny ability to scoop bad throws out of the dirt.
Over the years, the Yankees have gotten excellent glove-work out of first baseman such as Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Teixeira could be considered as good as those two if not maybe a bit better. The errors he saves his fellow infielders have become part of his legend now.
So even when Teixeira is slumping at the plate, he contributes so much in the field that it does not show unless he is gone for periods of time like he was this season.
Though Nick Swisher is above average at the position, Teixeira’s defense was missed when he was gone.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
Despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi elected to use Swisher as Teixeira’s primary backup when he was injured, Swisher’s report card will be with the outfielders.
Chavez, 34, made six starts at the position and played in 10 games here during the season. The Yankees also used Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce at the position during Teixeira’s stint on the disabled list.
But Chavez is still considered the primary backup at first base and his season was magical. He avoided injury, which is always a plus considering he has not played more than 137 games since 2006.
Chavez was signed primarily as a backup at third and first base and an occasional designated hitter against right-handers. In those roles Chavez seemed to thrive because, though his midseason numbers were good (six home runs, 16 RBIs and a .270 batting average), his second-half numbers were even better.
He had 10 home runs, 21 RBIs and raised his season average 11 points.Chavez made 50 starts at third base and that is the position for which he collected six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Oakland Athletics from 2001 to 2006. First base is a little tougher for him though he committed only one error at first in his limited time there.
No one can come close to providing the defense Teixeira can at the position but Chavez does not embarrass himself either.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The fact that the Yankees were forced to trade for McGehee and sign Pearce as a free agent shows just how devoid of talent the Yankees are at the position in the minor leagues.
Pearce, 29, and former major league slugger Russell Branyan, 36, played the position at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They combined for 22 home runs (11 apiece) there but neither obviously are considered are long-term solutions at the position for the Yankees.
Of course, Teixeira is signed through the 2016 season but the Yankees still need to be looking at grooming a replacement soon.
At Double-A Trenton the Yankees had a pair of powerful right-handed-hitting first basemen in Addison Maruzak and Luke Murton.
Maruszak, 25, had 16 homers, 59 RBIs and hit ,276 and Murton, 26, put up 25 home runs, 68 RBIs and batted .249. But the Yankees do not consider either player a prospect because they are playing at the Double-A level at a decidedly advanced age.
The Yankees do not have a first baseman among their Top 20 minor-league prospects so this position could stand to be strengthened.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
As long as the Yankees have Teixeira they can count on 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a batting average in the .240s or so. In addition, they will get Gold Glove defense from arguably the best-fielding first baseman in the game.
Teixeira’s consistency is his hallmark. Up to this season, he also has been quite durable. But the Yankees are going to have to admit that as Teixeira gets older he is going to be more susceptible to injury and he will require more rest during the season.
What Teixeira will able to contribute in the playoffs is questionable right now. Because Teixeira has always been a slow starter when the season begins, it stands to reason he might be real rusty when the playoffs begin. He also is not playing at 100 percent on his left calf now.
But just having him in lineup makes it stronger and there is no doubt Teixeira can save runs and errors with is glove. So the sum of all the parts adds up to being a huge positive for the Yankees.
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (14 HRs, 46 RBIs, .247 BA)
When Mark Teixeira arrived at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, he vowed we would see a whole new player this season. He said he would bunt against the shift teams employ against him and he would look to go the opposite field to bring his batting average up to his career average of .280.
But that never really happened.
Teixeira, 32, junked that strategy early in the 2012 season because it was not working. He decided the old way would produce home runs and drive in runs. Of course, that is the reason Teixeira is being paid by the Yankees.
What we have left in Teixeira is just a shell of what he was when he hit a combined .308 with 33 home runs and 121 RBIs for the Los Angeles Angels and Atlanta Braves in 2008, a year before he signed his lucrative seven-year contract with the Yankees.
Teixeira has altered his stroke to take advantage of the short porch in right-field in Yankee Stadium. The result is the same thing that happened to Jason Giambi when he signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Yankees in the winter of 2002.
Giambi was coming off a season in which he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .342 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs in a not-so-hitter-friendly Oakland Coliseum for the Athletics. Giambi’s career with the Yankees was marked by precipitous drop in batting average while he remained productive in hitting home runs and driving in runs.
In his final season with the Yankees in 2008, Giambi hit .247 with 32 home runs and 96 RBIs.
Teixeira not only took the reins at first base from Giambi in 2009, he became Giambi – even down to Giambi’s annual slow starts in April.
It is a shame that such a talented switch-hitter that could hit with power to all fields has become a “pull-happy” hitter prone to pitchers who feed him a steady diet of breaking pitches in the dirt. But that is pretty much what Teixeira has become.
His numbers this season are just horrendous, too. He is on a pace to hit 28 home runs and drive in 92 runs after hitting 39 home runs and driving in 111 runs last season. Of course, Teixeira was plagued for more than a month with a bronchial infection that did sap him of some strength. He is fine now.
Of course, is does not mean Teixeira can’t go on a tear in the second half and improve those numbers. But he better get busy.
The issue with Teixeira is not just the drop in batting average and production, though. It is his .216 average with runners in scoring position.
He is not alone with this problem. It is pretty much team wide. But Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano are the players who are expected to drive the big runs and it did not happen, for the most part, in the first half.
For the Yankees to be able to succeed in winning the American League East and getting deep into the playoffs, Teixeira is going to have to step it up big time. Home runs are nice but it also comes down to hitting that two-out double in the seventh to tie a game or a single with the bases loaded to give the Yankees a lead.
Those hits are important and Teixeira has just not been getting them with regularity this season.
What you can count on with Teixeira is his exceptional defense. He nearly made it through the entire first half without making a single error. His first was on Monday and it cost the Yankees a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
But that was the small exception to what has been a huge rule.
Teixeira’s glove at first is simply golden and he been decorated with four of them. If I was doing the voting this season, he would win his fifth.
Teixeira plays with exceptional range around first and his quick reactions allow him to stop a lot of line drives that would be rattling off the right-field wall if he was not there.
You add to that his ability to scoop bad throws to first out of the dirt and you have the consummate first baseman. In this respect, Teixeira is not anything like his predecessor Giambi. But the Yankees have come to expect flashy defense from their first baseman since they got so much of it from Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez.
Teixeira also is a durable player. He has started 74 games at first base and played in 77 of the team’s 81 games. At age 32, he can use a day off here and there to keep him sharp. But the Yankees really need his defense at first.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (6 HRs, 16 RBIs, .270 BA)
Chavez, 34, is primarily a third baseman by trade and he has played more this season there to back up Rodriguez.
But he also can play some first and he has made four starts there.
After a 2011 season in which he missed more than two months with a fractured bone in his left foot, Chavez has provided the Yankees with quality work off the bench this season.
He is hitting for a decent average considering he does not get regular at-bats and he is providing some power at the bottom of the batting order.
Chavez also has six Gold Gloves in his trophy case when he was third baseman with the Athletics so his value is immense with the Yankees needing to rest Rodriguez a lot and Teixeira some.
There is no way Chavez will provide Teixeira’s level of defense to first base. But he will hold his own here and he really is not needed to play the position much.
The Yankees are also fortunate to have Nick Swisher available to play first on occasion. Swisher has also started three games at first and there is no dropoff in offense when he is there. Oddly, enough Swisher is not really that bad a fielder either. He is no Teixeira, but then who is?
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
The Yankees do not have a high-ranking young first baseman in the minor leagues. At this time, they are fielding a platoon of former major leaguers at first base at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Lefty slugger Russell Branyan, 36, is hitting .298 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs. Righty slugger Steve Pearce, 29, is hitting .321 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.
Branyan, who has the two longest home runs in the new Yankee Stadium, was invited to spring training as a non-roster player but injured his back as was unable to play in any exhibitions. Pearce was acquired a free-agent out of the Pirates’ organization.
Both are there as insurance in case of injury to either Teixeira or Chavez.
At Double-A Trenton, the Yankees have a right-handed line-drive hitting first baseman in Addison Maruszak, 25, who is hitting .278 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs, and a right-handed power-hitter in Luke Murton, 26, who is hitting .257 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Neither is considered a top prospect.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
The Yankees’ success in the first half has been tempered by the slow starts of Teixeira, Rodriguez and Cano and their lack of production with runners in scoring position.
I guess the Yankees are just going to have to accept Teixeira as a 30 home run, 100 RBI player who is going to hit below .260 for the rest his stint in pinstripes.
That said, Teixeira can certainly improve on the 14 home runs and 46 RBIs he has produced thus far – not to mention his horrible .216 average with runners in scoring position.
Though Teixeira’s defense is exceptional, the Yankees need his bat if they want to succeed heading into the postseason. Teixeira’s season will be judged harshly if the Yankees fail to make it to the World Series.
He has got to step it up if he wants to bring a 28th world title to the Bronx.