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