Time for Teixeira to shift his priorities

As Mark Teixeira has aged, his numbers -- and, seemingly, his desire -- have dipped. Will he ever be a big-time player again? Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have one of the highest-paid first basemen in all of baseball. They also had, in 2014, one of the least productive first basemen in all of baseball.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mark Teixeira. Of course, you'd probably give him right back.

A player as perceptive and business-savvy as Teixeira -- who will collect $45 million in paychecks from the Yankees over the next two seasons -- would probably be among the first to admit that over the past couple of seasons, he has not even come close to giving his club its money's worth.

You can throw out 2013, when Teixeira missed all but 15 games after suffering a torn wrist tendon sheath that required season-ending surgery. And you can probably excuse some, but not all, of 2014 because it was probably too much to expect a 34-year-old player to fully bounce back from that kind of surgery in less than a year.

Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira

#25 1B
New York Yankees

2014 STATS

  • GM123
  • HR22

  • RBI62

  • R56

  • OBP.313

  • AVG.216

What you can't throw out, however, is the nagging belief that for some reason, Teixeira no longer has the burning desire to be the kind of iron man presence he was in his first nine seasons, in which he averaged 153 games, or the ability to be the kind of hitter he was when he was not only hitting 30 home runs and knocking in 100 runs a season, but regularly batting between .280 and .308, his career high in 2008.

In 2014, Teixeira appeared in 123 games, a significant number. But there were too many nagging injuries, and a couple too many unsettling absences -- one for "tired legs" early in the season, another for lightheadedness -- for a player who likes to say, "I play through anything."

Uh, not anymore.

It's possible that at his age -- Teixeira will turn 35 on April 11 -- injuries that he once would have played through now force him to take a day or two off.

But it's also possible that at his salary level and level of achievement -- he's been a world champion, an All-Star and a five-time Gold Glove winner -- the same hunger is no longer there.

I am reminded of a great quote from the former middleweight champion Marvin Hagler, who once described the rigors of training for a title fight as follows: "It's tough to get out of bed to do roadwork when you've been sleeping in silk pajamas." Hagler lost his next fight, to Sugar Ray Leonard, and never got up to do roadwork again.

There are some Yankees who wonder if the same syndrome is starting to affect Teixeira. His numerous business interests are well-known -- he spoke of many of them in a 2013 Fortune magazine article -- and last year, displayed a genuine flair for comedy in the "Foul Territory" segments he did for the YES network, in which he played himself as a bumbling TV interviewer. He has appeared on TV ("Entourage") and in a Broadway show, and acting may be one of his post-baseball aspirations.

Where he has not shown much flair, or desire, is in overcoming the effect of the proliferation of shifts that have become the rage in major league baseball, especially against hitters like him. Anyone who can read a spray chart can see that from both sides of the plate, and especially from the left side, Teixeira is as predictable as the clock at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

As a result, although his home run and RBI totals have tailed off gradually, his batting average, on-base percentage and BABIP -- a measure of how many of his balls in play become outs -- have taken a steady, precipitous drop.

And much to the Yankees' dismay, Teixeira has not seemed all that inclined to remedy it.

Just last week, at the news conference to announce his contract extension, GM Brian Cashman acknowledged the adverse effect the shift was having on some of his hitters. "The analytics have proven that certain guys obviously have tendencies that opposing defenses can take advantage of," Cashman said.

Without mentioning any names, Cashman was obviously talking about Brian McCann and Teixeira, the heart of his 2014 batting order that saw too many line drives and hard grounders turned into outs by an infielder stationed in short right field.

Before the 2013 season, Teixeira did mention something about occasionally laying down a bunt or two, to beat the shift and keep opposing defenses honest. But more often, he has shrugged off suggestions that he try to go the other way, saying things like, "I'm in there to drive in runs" and "You don't want to turn me into a slap hitter."

So instead, what he has turned into is a guy who will give you the occasional home run interspersed with a heck of a lot of outs hit into the shift.

Perhaps a new hitting coach will be better able to reach Teixeira regarding his approach than the departed Kevin Long did. But the fact is, the change must come from Teixeira himself.

A baseball insider I spoke with this week said Teixeira's "outside interests" -- he is financially involved in real estate holdings, a chain of juice bars, and is working to create what he called a "marriage of baseball and social media" -- had become a point of concern, with some wondering how badly he still wanted to be a baseball player.

Another said that while Teixeira's health was a factor -- he also missed time with a hamstring injury and recurring soreness in his wrist -- he also needed a change in approach at the plate. "He needs to go back to being the Mark Teixeira who used the whole field," the source said.

In truth, Teixeira's decline began just about as soon as he signed his Yankees deal before the 2009 season. By 2010, his BA had dropped to .256, then to .248, .251, and this year's .216, which was worse than all but two full-time MLB first basemen. His RBI total fell from a career-high 122 in 2009, to 108, 111, 84, and this year's 62, his lowest for a full season.

In just about every other offensive category, Teixeira was in the bottom half of 23 full-time MLB first basemen: 14th in home runs, 19th in RBIs, 19th in on-base percentage, 17th in slugging percentage. As a result, the heart of the Yankees' order, spots three, four and five, generally filled by Teixeira, the underperforming McCann, the oft-injured Carlos Beltran and the misplaced Jacoby Ellsbury, ranked well below the average for the other 14 American League teams.

And here you thought Derek Jeter was the problem!

That missing middle of the order was the reason the Yankees' offense was so feeble this season, and Teixeira was a big part of that.

Like Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira is going to be here, collecting big paychecks and being expected to put up commensurate numbers.

But whether it's in his approach to hitting, his attitude toward playing, or simply the condition of his body, something, and maybe several things, are going to have to change for the Yankees to get what they are paying for.

For nine seasons, you could have set your watch by the numbers on the back of Teixeira's baseball card.

Now, how can anyone be sure of exactly what he is capable of giving them?

QUESTION: Do you expect Teixeira to have a better 2015 season? Or do you think his days as a big-time player are over?