Teixeira deal limits some Yanks' at-bats
"What is your name?" says the bridge keeper.
"Mark Teixeira," the big free agent responds.
"What is your quest?" asks the bridge keeper.
"To make lots and lots of money," says Teixeira.
"What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?" questions the bridge keeper.
"Uh " replies Teixeira.
Pardon my jest, but at this point, isn't it hard not to kid around about the Yankees' spending spree? The Yankees have spent more than $400 million in contracts to free agents this month, and they now own the four richest contracts in the game: Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million deal; Derek Jeter's 10 years for $189 million; Teixeira's deal; and CC Sabathia's brand-spanking-new seven-year, $161 million contract.
But it's also fair to say they boast a star-studded fantasy roster. It's a proverbial team of All-Stars, for our purposes, regardless of whether these purchases result in a World Series ring. Oh, how nice for fantasy that October is irrelevant to our cause; we can feast on big numbers from A-Rod, Teixeira, Sabathia et al, and not worry about such things as a playoff collapse.
Teixeira presumably will bat fourth in the lineup, providing A-Rod top-shelf protection, or vice versa; they'll be three-four for sure, batting behind quality on-base specialists in Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter at one-two. That's as good a first four hitters as anyone in baseball, even at the huge expense. To say that Damon and Jeter are locks for 100-plus runs, and A-Rod and Teixeira 100-plus RBIs, is an understatement. Fact is, you could probably bump those numbers up to 125 and not be unrealistic.
Not that Teixeira will be a top-five pick for fantasy. He plays the deep first-base position, and has averaged 32 home runs, 112 RBIs, 96 runs scored and a .298 batting average the past three seasons. Those are exceptional totals, but short of the .301-43-144-112 monster numbers he managed in his career year of 2005. Teixeira's donning the pinstripes does more to assure he reaches his 2006-08 baseline numbers than it increases his value; consider those the least he'll offer. He finished 22nd on the 2008 Player Rater, and as such will be a certain top-20 pick, appropriate even in the early second round.
It's the impact of Teixeira's arrival on other Yankees, however, that warrants discussion. Nick Swisher is most affected, as he was the projected first baseman as recently as a day ago. Now Swisher, coming off a miserable, career-worst campaign in which he batted .219 with a .742 OPS, will have to earn his at-bats among the three outfield spots and designated hitter. Making him the everyday center fielder is one solution to the Yankees' newfound roster-clutter conundrum, but it'd come at considerable expense to the team's defense. Swisher might play better than half the team's innings in center in 2009, especially should Melky Cabrera and/or Brett Gardner fail to lock down the position, but chances are he'll now be more of a 400 at-bat player than 500, diminishing his value.
Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, both more suited to DH than to play left field regularly at this stage of their careers, might also lose a handful of at-bats as a result, as Swisher shuffles around the lineup. Matsui would be at greater risk; he's coming off knee surgery and doesn't play as important a role in the lineup as Damon, the team's regular leadoff hitter.
The pitching staff also benefits, as many people who follow the Yankees were troubled by the anticipated offseason departures of Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, who were responsible for 196 RBIs and 168 runs scored combined in 2008. Teixeira and Swisher, by comparison, totaled 190 RBIs and 188 runs scored. To say the Yankees should at least be able to match last season's 4.87 runs per game and .769 team OPS -- numbers that ranked them 10th and eighth, respectively, in baseball -- seems fair. In fact, should Swisher and Robinson Cano rebound, and Matsui and Jorge Posada recover well from injuries, there's a chance this offense will challenge for the top spots in most offensive categories. That further enhances the win potential for Sabathia, A.J. Burnett or Chien-Ming Wang, among others.
A final note for fantasy owners: The Angels suffer as a result of Teixeira's departure; a week ago, it seemed like he might re-sign with the team. With Teixeira gone, Kendry Morales becomes the most likely internal option to play first base, and the Angels mean it this time (for a few years they've called him their future at the position). Barring their adding another free agent -- certainly a possibility -- Morales will get a long look for the job. Unfortunately, through 407 career plate appearances of big-league action, the 25-year-old has batted .249 with a .710 OPS, making him a significant downgrade at the position. Morales' .332/.901 career minor league numbers suggest he has sleeper potential, especially in AL-only leagues, but having had the experience he has at the big league level with modest results, the possibility remains he's a dreaded "Quadruple-A" player.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.