- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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From Tuesday's chat:
Alex (New York): Simply put, is Mark Teixeira DONE?
Teixeira is facing season-ending surgery on his wrist, but I assumed Alex was asking if Teixeira is done not just for 2013 but for beyond. In other words: Are his days as a productive player numbered?
Teixeira still has three years left at $22.5 million per season on his contract, meaning the Yankees will be paying $47.5 million next year just for Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. No wonder Mariano Rivera wants to retire. Even before this year's wrist injuries, Teixeira had already been in decline, his OPS dropping each year he's been with the Yankees. He's 33 and would turn 34 next April, after missing nearly an entire season.
It certainly wouldn't be unusual for a first baseman to decline even more suddenly at Teixeira's age. Mo Vaughn leaps to mind. He missed all of his age-33 season with the Angels after surgery to repair his biceps tendon in his left arm. Traded to the Mets, he was worth -0.5 WAR in 2003 and then injured his knee the next year and retired. Of course, Vaughn wasn't exactly a workout warrior, so maybe a comparison to the more athletic Teixeira isn't fair.
How about Keith Hernandez? Like Teixeira, he was a gifted defensive first baseman (although he was a different hitter than Teixeira with a higher average but less power). He had an .813 OPS at 33, .750 at 34 and .649 at 35. Back, knee and hamstring issues contributed to his decline, but that's the point: Teixeira had wrist and calf injuries last year. Once one of the most durable players in the game, this is two straight years of issues.
Frank Thomas also missed nearly all of his age-33 season with an injury. He battled injuries on and off thereafter and did have a couple of big home run seasons, but while he was a .321 hitter before age 33, he hit .260 from ages 33 to 36.
Willie McCovey had 54.0 WAR through age 32, 10.4 WAR thereafter. John Olerud was a 5-WAR player in 2001 and 2002 at ages 32 and 33, 2.7 at age 34, 1.1 at 35 and 0.7 at 36.
Now, I'm picking and choosing with those examples. Fred McGriff and Carlos Delgado are two recent examples of elite first basemen who continued to hit well through their mid-30s (Delgado averaged .265/.349/.505 with 33 home runs for the Mets from ages 34 to 36).
Is Mark Teixeira finished? Probably not. Still, he's not going to be a 5-win player like he was his first year with the Yankees in 2009. They're going to be paying a lot of money the next three years for what will likely be a middle-of-the-pack first baseman.