New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira became the latest in a long line of fallen Bronx Bomber stars when he injured the tendon sheath of his right wrist when swinging off a tee during World Baseball Classic workouts.
What originally was diagnosed as an 8-10 week absence could turn out to be much more. On Sunday, it was revealed that Teixeira could need surgery, putting his entire 2013 season in jeopardy.
While Yankees general manager Brian Cashman continues an attempt to move the team payroll to less than $189 million for 2014, Teixeira's contract has been seen as an issue, but not in the same vein as Alex Rodriguez.
While there are options to replace him in the short term, the future has to become a major concern for Yankee decision makers. If health and production continue to dissolve from Teixeira, the franchise and fanbase could start to consider his deal another unworkable albatross.
Amazingly, Teixeira was one of the most ideal free agents in baseball history just four years ago. Sports Illustrated painted his free agency as a gift to the organization smart enough to write the check. At $180 million, the New York Yankees—urged by Cashman pleading with ownership to extend payroll for this particular deal—wrote the check for the switch-hitting, polished first baseman.
At the time of the signing, it was hard to find a hole in Tex's game. He was a professional on and off the field, affable, consistent, the best defensive first baseman in the sport and, maybe most importantly, durable. Eight-year contracts are risky for any free agent, but Teixeira has averaged 151 games per season since debuting in 2003. Durability and talent were the recipe for free-agent success stories.
Of course, Cashman also saw a player with unique production. Scott Boras is notorious for the binders he prepares for each client, highlighting achievements and projecting the rest of their career. In Teixeira's write-up, he included the following: Only three first basemen in history have hit more than 30 homers and driven in more than 100 runs for five consecutive seasons by age 28—Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols and Teixeira.
If that wasn't enough, he could have included a list of 28-year-old players with a .919 or better OPS in at least 3,900 plate appearances. In the history of baseball, there have only been 31 players to start a career with that kind of production. Tex was one of them.
While the contract hasn't been "bad" for New York thus far, it's trending in the wrong direction. After a great debut season in 2009 (.292/.383/.565, 344 TB, second in AL MVP voting, World Series championship), Teixeira has seen his play fall off considerably.
Over the last three seasons, Teixeira has seen his slash line slip to .252/.347/.484, home run numbers dip to a career-low 24, and games played slip to a career-low 123 last season. Considering the magnitude of the wrist injury suffered this month, he may fail to reach even close to that number in 2013.
While the defense continues to be spectacular at first base, no team would sign up to pay $90 million through 2016 for strictly a defensive stalwart. For the Yankees to achieve team success in the immediate future, Teixeira must hit well. Teixeira's skill set—power, on-base skills, switch-hitter—belies the recent production. He was supposed to age well because his core skills weren't reliant on speed and he didn't play a demanding up-the-middle position.
At this point, the New York Yankees would limit payroll anyway possible. Moving Teixeira would be an option if there were suitors.
The acceptance of an eroding skill set is a moment every aging player must face. For Teixeira and the Yankees, it's come a few years too soon.
Joe Giglio is a MLB Lead Writer covering the NL and AL East. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports.