It might have slipped by due to being published on a Friday night, but Mark Teixeira gave a telling interview to Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Barbarisi – an interview in which he admitted to being overpaid.
A welcome moment of self-awareness as it relates to a professional athlete’s pay packet, his comments are universally spot-on with one notable exception…
Mark Teixeira gets it. He understands the inefficiency of free agency, about how little surplus value a player making $20 million can possibly generate. “When you’re Mike Trout, making the minimum, you are crazy valuable” Teixeira notes, adding how much more value he produced relative to his salary in the early stage of his career. In the interests of clarity, Teixeira should add he never actually made “the minimum” as he signed a big league contract right out of college. But he’s right – buying wins on the free agent market is a very expensive way to conduct business – a risky one, too.
Tex enters his age-33 season with a new approach, not wanting to let the expectations of money and salary dictate the way he plays and prepares. Rather than attempting to plug perceived holes in his game, Teixeira is going to embrace his old player skills and let his zoomer flag fly.
I’m not going to play 10 more years. I want 5 or 6 good ones. So that would say I’m on the backside of my career. And instead of trying to do things differently on the backside of my career, why not focus on the things I do well, and try to be very good at that?
The unfortunate thing for Teixeira and the Yankees is that part Teixeira misses here. The eight-year, $180 million free agent contract he signed with the Yankees is built on a specific promise: the early peak years pay for the declining production at the end of the deal. The front half pays for the back half, as we’ve heard many times before.
Setting aside the value they gained by, you know, winning the World Series Teixeira’s first season (not to mention the importance of keeping him from joining a bitter rival during his peak), the Yankees simply aren’t going to get enough value from the front half of Tex’s deal to justify the full package.
Good as Mark Teixeira was during pockets of his four years as a Yankee, he’s only produced 15 WAR since coming to the Yankees (on this, Baseball Reference and Fangraphs agree). A .263/.357/.506 with 135 home runs looks pretty good until you remember Tex is a first baseman, his defensive value at first — while nice — doesn’t lift his offense enough to justify his check. It makes him a top ten offensive first baseman who is paid like a top 5 guy.
Even if Teixeira’s new Zen approach allows him to post 3 Wins (as ZiPS does for 2013) a year for the next four, he still falls short of 30 WAR for the life of deal – meaning the Yankees spent $6 million per win. As free agent deals go, that isn’t bad at all. But it is wishful thinking to believe he can be both healthy and productive enough to pull it off. If you think he can manage 10 wins over the next four years, it begins to look quite dire for the Yankees – as dire as things get in their accounting office.
Again, the Yankees won the World Series in 2009 with Teixeira as their everyday first baseman. He was very good for them and that might just wash the inefficient use of dollars right there. But as this off-season shows us, even the Yankees are not immune to payroll parameters and pinching pennies to avoid the luxury tax.
With a de facto salary cap in place, it becomes increasingly difficult to wave away $180 million worth of contracts, no matter how long you fly a flag.