Via Daniel Barbarisi -
Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira will turn 33 the week after Opening Day. A quick glance at the statistics will show that Teixeira now is a different player than Teixeira at 29. The power and patience are excellent, but his batting average is notably lower—consistently sitting around .250.
He looks back now at the seasons he had when he was younger—hitting .280 to .300, averaging more than 40 doubles, 35 homers, and 120 RBI, like clockwork—and what sticks out the most is how simple, how easy it felt.
“I looked at the first six or seven years of my career, I was in my 20s, it was easy. I wasn’t searching for the right formula. To think that I’m going to get remarkably better, as I get older and breaking down a little bit more, it’s not going to happen,” Teixeira said.
That makes sense. It’s the way it’s supposed to work: The years affect us all, and that is starkest for those who age in front of our eyes. But in baseball, where every player arrives at spring training having found the panacea that will make this the best year of their career, to hear a star player acknowledge the obvious sounds downright alien.
“Maybe I’m slowing down a tick. Look, I’m not going to play forever. Eventually you start, I don’t want to say declining, but it gets harder and harder to put up 30 [homers] and 100 [RBI],” Teixeira said.
This winter, Teixeira is accepting his new normal. After three seasons that for him would be considered down years, Teixeira is done tinkering with new ideas, done chasing a perpetual peak. If he is a .250 hitter, so be it. He is embracing his strengths—30-homer power, 90-walk patience, Gold Glove defense—and forgetting his weaknesses, on what he openly calls the backside of his career.
“This is my 11th year,” Teixeira said. “I’m not going to play 10 more years. I want 5 or 6 good ones. So that would say I’m on the backside of my career. And instead of trying to do things differently on the backside of my career, why not focus on the things I do well, and try to be very good at that?”
Embracing a new definition of success can be a tough sell in an era when we have come to expect the world from older players. As men in their early 30s continue to sign 10-year, nine-figure deals, everyone from GMs to agents to the players themselves has to believe that the natural aging process no longer exists, or can be beaten. In suggesting otherwise, Teixeira knows fans will call him overpaid. He gets it. There’s nothing he can do to justify his enormous $180 million contract, he says.
“I have no problem with anybody in New York, any fan, saying you’re overpaid. Because I am,” Teixeira said. “We all are.”
“Agents are probably going to hate me for saying it,” he continued. “You’re not very valuable when you’re making $20 million. When you’re Mike Trout, making the minimum, you are crazy valuable. My first six years, before I was a free agent, I was very valuable. But there’s nothing you can do that can justify a $20 million contract.”
That isn’t an easy realization to come to, and for the past few years, Teixeira has fought it hard.
This could be a very interesting season in New York for Tex. If he’s hitting .230 on June 1st, with no A-Rod in town to soak up the heat from the media and fans, it’s going to be open season on him this summer. Somebody always has to be the whipping boy. And, it’s not going to be Jeter. That leaves it between Cano, Teixeira and Granderson. And, since he makes the most and has the most left on his contract…well…you’re on the Mark, Teixeira.