Heightened pressure now heaped on Teixeira
Updated: March 6, 2009, 11:48 AM ETBy Buster Olney
So Alex Rodriguez embarks on an uncertain course. The Yankees don't know if he'll be available Opening Day or in May. They don't know if he'll be available next week. His intention is to prepare and play each day until his hip -- which will require surgery eventually -- prevents him from doing so. The Yankees have no idea what they'll get out of him this season. They don't know if he'll be the same kind of hitter who batted .302 with 35 homers in 2008 or if he'll be a little less than that or a lot less than that. They cannot assume he'll give them anything. Which means enormous pressure now shifts onto the shoulders of Mark Teixeira, who, up until Thursday's news about A-Rod, had been having the quietest existence of any $180 million item since one of those earmarks added to the federal budget at the 24th hour. Not any more. Teixeira already was being paid for production, but now, any hiccup on his part will be devastating for the Yankees. A slow transition to New York, which has been typical for most of the big-name players acquired by the team in the past decade, might crush the Yankees' playoff hopes. They need him to hit early and hit late; they need him to hit all season. And in the past, Teixeira has been a slow starter. For his career, Teixeira's numbers are a .290 batting average, a .378 on-base percentage and a .541 slugging percentage. Here are his April numbers over his career: And his May numbers: After Teixeira didn't hit for much power at the outset of 2008, the first baseman referenced his history as a slow starter and said he knew that inevitably, he would step up -- a comment that drew the attention of one of his former employers. "That's not going to cut it [in 2009], after he signs with the Yankees or the Red Sox," the official said. "If you get a contract for 20-plus million dollars, nobody is going to want to hear about a slow start. They're just going to expect you to produce." There might have been a greater margin for error for Teixeira if Rodriguez were completely healthy, of course, and there would have been a greater margin for error for the Yankees, who inhabit a division that perhaps has three of the four best teams in the majors. As spring training began, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays all seemed capable of winning 92 to 98 games. Now, with the diminishment and possible loss of Rodriguez for a significant period of time, the Yankees have taken a major body blow. They have a chance to have a strong rotation and a good bullpen, and they might well survive the American League East gauntlet and make the playoffs. But considering the composition of their lineup -- the singles- and doubles-hitting Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter at the top, the recovering Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada in the lower half -- Teixeira must make an impact in the middle, early and often and all season. Along those lines, some other players who will be under heightened pressure to produce in 2009, because of the circumstances around them: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: He doesn't turn 21 for another 10 days, and he has 100 innings in the big leagues, yet the Dodgers are counting on the very talented youngster to be a steady, reliable member of their rotation. "He's got to be more consistent with his command down in the strike zone," one talent evaluator said. Fausto Carmona, Indians: He was Cy Young caliber in 2007, but he struggled with his command in 2008. Considering the questions at the back end of the Cleveland rotation -- and figuring that Cliff Lee will be hard pressed to pitch at the near-historic level he did in 2008 -- it will be critical for Carmona to rebound. Khalil Greene, Cardinals: He tends to expect a whole lot out of himself, and he now is in a position with a lot of pressure -- he steps into a situation in which he needs to play an integral role if the Cardinals are going to overcome the Cubs in the National League Central. Joe Nathan and Joe Mauer, Twins: For a team built on low-cost solutions, Nathan and Mauer are big-ticket players, and at their best they are dominant, totally reliable. Both have been nagged by ailments this spring. The Twins probably could withstand the loss of first baseman Justin Morneau for a significant period of time, but it's hard to imagine their surviving a pennant race without either Nathan or Mauer. Nathan has been an agent of change over the past year, Tom Powers writes, and after throwing Thursday he said he felt great. Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks: This is a lineup that needs some stability, and Drew probably is the most likely to provide that. Arizona's rotation is good enough to win the NL West -- but it was last season, too. The unknown about the Diamondbacks is this: Can they hit enough? Drew -- who finished with 44 doubles, 11 triples and 21 homers in '08 -- has to be a big part of that answer. John Danks and Gavin Floyd, White Sox: They were difference-makers last season, lifting Chicago to the AL Central title, as they emerged as frontline starters. There cannot be regression for this duo, considering the depth of the AL Central. Mike Pelfrey, Mets: They wouldn't have been in contention last season without Pelfrey, who took a big step forward in 2008, when he went 13-11, and the Mets desperately need more of the same from him in 2009. Dana Eveland, Athletics: Oakland's offense should be greatly improved, and the Athletics appear to have a solid bullpen. The question is how quickly their young starting pitchers will assimilate to the big leagues and reach some level of consistency. With questions swirling around the condition of Justin Duchscherer, Eveland, 25, must be at least decent, the steady anchor of six innings. Kyle Davies, Royals: The Royals have made progress this offseason, and it now is within the realm of possibility that they will contend in the AL Central. But it's hard to imagine that they will do this without a significant contribution from Davies, who threw well at the end of last season, improving his breaking ball. He doesn't have to pitch at an All-Star level, but if he becomes a solid No. 3, with a sub-4.00 ERA and 12 to 15 wins, the Royals could be in the running all season. Given the timing of the A-Rod injury, Jack Curry addresses what the Yankees knew about it and when they knew it. Of course the Yankees were caught off guard, Mike Lupica writes. Brian Cashman recommended months ago that A-Rod be allowed to walk away, writes Joel Sherman. There is no sense in rushing A-Rod into surgery, Ken Davidoff writes. An expert tells Anthony Rieber that the kind of surgery A-Rod would have is a hit-or-miss thing. Here are some possible solutions at third base for the Yankees. The Yankees might be better off without A-Rod, Ian O'Connor writes.
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