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December 19, 2008

Prospectus Today

The Top o' the Market

by Joe Sheehan

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With CC Sabathia safely ensconced in a huge pile of money and checking out prices in the New York real estate market, the priciest free agent remaining is first baseman Mark Teixeira. While I value Teixeira more highly than some, and certainly more highly than I do Sabathia, the big pitcher's seven-year, $161 million contract seems like a reasonable estimate for how Teixeira will do in the market. He may get-and deserve-more, or he may take less, but that's the range we're talking about.

We do seem to be having some trouble figuring out who'll be signing the big checks, though. After what seemed like most of the American League dropping in on him over the past week, the race now seems to be between teams trying to get as far away as possible. Whether negotiating tactic, fear of a big number, or just a rush home for the holidays, interest in Teixeira has waned as quickly as it waxed, leaving him with perhaps just a couple of suitors as Santa puts away some carbs and sorts through the bubble teams trying to make the "Nice" list for 2008.

This is a strange turn of events. Teixeira is the top of the market, and not in the way that Alfonso Soriano and Barry Zito were as above-average players who just happened to be free agents at the right time. Teixeira is the first-base equivalent of Carlos Beltran, a complete player who hits and fields, is available with a number of years left at his peak, and can be expected to decline gradually when the time comes. The trades that split Teixeira's last two seasons may have cost him two Gold Glove Awards, and having that hardware would help reinforce that Teixeira is a two-way player worth a win or two per year on defense alone.

It's that defensive value that has had me writing that Teixeira should be the Yankees' top priority this season. With his bat and glove, he would be the perfect replacement for Jason Giambi; few teams have suffered such poor defense at first base. Moreover, Teixeira's anticipated $22-24 million salary would effectively replace Giambi, giving the team an upgrade at minimal added payroll. The Yankees, however, have focused on upgrading their pitching.

The Red Sox publicly backed away from Teixeira yesterday, which seems more like a negotiating tactic than anything else. Then again, they are the one team that doesn't have an open slot for Teixeira. Were they to sign him, they would have to trade one of Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell, and while dealing the latter is attractive, it's hard to find a market for a 34- or 35-year-old owed $26 million who was last seen walking off the post-season stage with a bad hip. Also, because the Sox have a superior first baseman in Youkilis, they wouldn't get quite the benefit that other teams would; in fact, signing Teixeira would probably weaken their defense slightly, by forcing Youkilis to third and Lowell off of the team.

The wild card in this has been the Nationals, who were apparently attempting to trade on Teixeira's ties to the region to make him the centerpiece of their run at becoming relevant. The notion isn't a terrible one-if you're going to make a signing like that, sign the best guy available, not Gil Meche. On the other hand, the Nats have talent along the left side of the defensive spectrum, and their talent base is so bad that adding Teixeira won't even be enough to get them to .500. Nor do they have much talent on the horizon. By the time they can win, Teixeira will be moving into his decline phase. Were this 2010, perhaps this move would have made sense for them. It makes less sense for Teixeira, who will get paid no matter where he goes, and would have a better shot at the postseason in most other locales.

Not far from the Nationals, however, are the Orioles. They haven't been relevant in a long time, either, but they're getting there, and they're closer to Teixeira's Maryland roots. Like the Nationals, they have plenty of money to spend, and revenue upside due to a city with a great baseball tradition and a popular ballpark that would fill up again should a successful team ever play in it. They have an opening at first base-Kevin Millar, free agent, got most of the time there in 2008-and would see both an offensive and defensive bounce from mixing in Teixeira.

The biggest reason to like the idea of the Orioles signing Teixeira, though, is that this team is much, much closer to something special than people realize. Nick Markakis is a star. Adam Jones is, loosely speaking, Vernon Wells with better defense and less power. Matt Wieters is the best prospect in baseball, and will be the best catcher in the AL by the end of 2010. Brian Matusz was the fourth pick in last year's draft and could be in Camden Yards by September, and a number two starter a year after that. The Orioles have put together a championship-caliber core, and Teixeira would be another piece in that, giving them five players more than capable of being the five best players on a great team. A lineup core of Jones/Markakis/Teixeira/Weiters might not be one of the best in the league next year, but in 2010 or 2011? That's a group of players who could combine for 35 WARP two years out. You win championships with that kind of core. Add in the fifth pick in this year's draft, and it's not hard to get excited about the Andy MacPhail Era in Baltimore.

It's very rare that you could suggest a 68-93 team make a seven- or eight-year commitment to a 29-year-old first baseman. This player, and this team, makes that kind of decision sensible. Teixeira is a player who would not be blocking anyone, would provide value on offense and defense, would give the Orioles the power threat their future teams may lack, and who is likely to sustain his value past his peak in a way that allows him to still be part of a core when the Orioles are contending. Remember, this is the American League East; you need to build towards 95 wins to have any realistic chance of post-season play. Adding Teixeira is a step in that direction.

The Orioles were all but declared out of the running earlier this week, so perhaps this won't happen. That's a shame, because it would be good for the game as well. Baseball is at its best when as many teams as possible are pushing towards a championship, and there's something to be said for the value of tent-pole franchises being strong. The Orioles were a tent-pole franchise in the AL for a quarter-century, and if they can re-emerge with a core of great young players supplemented by a well-chosen free agent to compete with the nominal "big two" in the AL East, that's a beautiful thing for the game.

The most likely scenario is that Teixeira re-signs with the Angels. They desperately need his kind of high-OBP, high-SLG bat, the kind they don't have and tend not to develop. They appreciate defense, and are well aware of the runs he saves on that side of the ball. They have money to spend; even though they have some onerous contracts, Vladimir Guerrero is a free agent after this season, and they've sloughed off Garret Anderson's option as well, while also allowing Francisco Rodriguez to leave. They're fending off a challenge from the A's, and can see the Rangers developing on the horizon, so they're motivated to win in the short term. As a potential playoff team, the marginal revenues created by the additional wins they could add in signing Teixeira are high, perhaps enough to recoup their investment.

Everything points to the Angels having every incentive to make the highest offer on Teixeira, and if they sign him, it will a very strong baseball move from one of the game's better franchises. If the Orioles can pull this off, however, it could be a turning point for an organization that, in its way, was the Angels of the 1970s and '80s.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Mark Teixeira,  The Who

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

ElAngelo
(942)

Outside of him not wanting to play there, is there any good reason the Indians haven't made a strong play for him? He'd be a tremendous upgrade on their offense and defense, enough to potentially put them near the top of the AL.

Dec 19, 2008 13:59 PM
rating: 0
 
dubfifty6

Are we sure that the Indians want to spend that much money, when they're not sure that Victor Martinez isn't a 1B in the end anyway? Obviously Teixeira is still an upgrade there, but not necessarily $22MM worth of marginal difference . . .

Dec 19, 2008 14:11 PM
rating: 3
 
Austin (Raleigh)

Matt Laporta makes the 22 million you'd spend on Teixeira better spent elsewhere.

Obviously, Not saying he's better. But there's no reason to spend that money on 1b when you probably have a good answer in 2010 if not 2009.

Dec 22, 2008 12:43 PM
rating: 0
 
chartjes
(897)

@ElAngelo

You mean except for the fact that they would never pay a guy $20M+ per year?

Dec 19, 2008 14:11 PM
rating: 0
 
ElAngelo
(942)

That sort of rigidity doesn't seem to be productive, though, unless their financial forecasts are grim. They'd have the chance to pair up him and Sizemore for 4-6 years of their prime, which frankly, could be devastating, and his addition would have a great impact in terms of wins, and in turn, attendance and postseason appearances.

The Victor Martinez issue is potentially a problem, but it doesn't strike me as a good enough reason to stay away, because Texieria is in a different league of hitters than Martinez.

Dec 19, 2008 14:21 PM
rating: 0
 
chartjes
(897)

Well, I would think that it is VERY unlikely that a self-proclaimed small-market team like the Indians would splurge on Tex. He'd be a great fit for them, but it's just not going to happen.

As for him and Sizemore making a good pair, sure. But you'd still have to put together a team of good complementary players around them and I think that precludes paying one guy between 20 to 25% of your payroll.

Teams just don't win anything when you have so much money tied up in one guy. Name one team that has gone deep into the playoffs with one guy's salary of at least 20% of their payroll. Even Manny in Boston at $20 M wasn't 25% of their total payroll.

Dec 19, 2008 14:26 PM
rating: -1
 
TGisriel

I agree with Joe's analysis of the reasons why the Orioles should sign Teixeira.

Imagine a lineup that starts with Roberts, Markakis and Teixera, and after that you mix in Huff (for a year)Jones, Weiters, Scott etc. Teixera will drive in a lot of runs with Roberts and Markakis and their exceptional OBP hitting in front of him.

The problem, of course is the starting pitching. The O's have young arms coming up (Matusz, Tillman, Erbe, Spoone). The problem is that the best of them are not ready yet.

Signing Teixeira would be a major step for the O's.

Dec 19, 2008 14:55 PM
rating: 0
 
deep64blue

Does anyone have any idea why the Yankees haven't made a run at him? It seems so obvious that he's a perfect fit for their needs.

Dec 19, 2008 15:09 PM
rating: 1
 
asbasb

Given the state of the economy, I don't understand why any team would commit to $20+ million per year right now. Thinking about the collapse of the US financial and auto industries, the bank failures in Europe, the recession in China, and the dire economic outlook for the near future while reading about the free agent negotiations makes me wonder if the baseball owners and I are living on the same planet.

Dec 19, 2008 15:28 PM
rating: -1
 
stevman17

Well, a team would make this signing because they are committed to winning. They would also, potentially, know that recessions do not last for ever. It would be less than intelligent for a team to just give up trying to sign a premier free agent for fear of the economy.

In fact, being competitive during a recession might be even more important to a franchise than it is during boom times. If people are hurting they absolutely will not go see a loser, but they might splurge on a ticket for a competitive club.

Dec 19, 2008 21:44 PM
rating: 0
 
WholeLottaGame

Yeah, Joe even forgot to put Roberts at the front of that 4. Assuming Jones continues to develop and Wieters pans out, I'd take that 1-5 over a lot of teams. If Huff even comes close to repeating, he's a great 5 or 6, and Scott's not a horrible 7. Izturis has to be an improvement at SS, such as it is, but then they still need a DH. Still, not a bad top 7.

Dec 19, 2008 16:10 PM
rating: 1
 
buddaley

I am glad to see Joe's comments on the Orioles. I agree they are nearing competitiveness and think that they could accelerate their development with a few key decisions this year. In my view, that would include trading Huff, not keeping him, while his value is probably at its peak. They may want to wait until the trade deadline, risking that he is less effective as is often his wont early in the year, but trading him seems a must. I think it is time also to see what they can get for Mora, even if it is only to deepen their minor league talent.

Dec 19, 2008 18:16 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

I hope it's Baltimore. What a four-team battle that would be then.

Dec 19, 2008 18:58 PM
rating: 0
 
jdavlin
(630)

Great post, Joe. Can't remember the last piece I read that mentioned "Championship-caliber" and "Orioles" in the same sentence!

Teixeira would give the Orioles one more piece of what is shaping up to be a very good defensive club as well, which can only help whoever ends up on the mound. Not sure about Wieters defense, but Izturis/Roberts/Jones is some pretty great up-the-middle D, and putting Tex at 1B will only make Izturis and Roberts that much better. Assuming the pitching develops (never a wise assumption), this could be a helluva team in 2-3 years.

This is all assuming Angelos is willing to part with his money. Part of me believes Angelos may see this as the ultimate good PR move and a means of rehabilitating his awful local reputation and do it. The other part of me sees him using the crappy economy as an excuse not to do it. Speaking with friends, and listening to local talk radio, I get the real sense from O's fans that if Angelos doesn't make a big offer to get Teixeira, he'll never win the fans back.

I've stated for years that the O's would never win anything again with Angelos as owner. Sure hope he proves me wrong.

Dec 19, 2008 21:07 PM
rating: 0
 
ghruth

"Matt Wieters is the best prospect in baseball, and will be the best catcher in the AL by the end of 2010."

I guess this also means Joe Mauer will be traded to the NL.

Dec 20, 2008 06:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

Given Wieters production and scouting predictions, I can see him being better than Mauer by the end of 2010.

Dec 20, 2008 06:54 AM
rating: 0
 
J. Eldred

A lot of people are not convinced that Mauer will be able to stay at C for the duration of his career. He's pretty big for a catcher, and he might have to move to another position to keep his bat in the lineup every day.

Dec 20, 2008 08:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

In all fairness, Wieters is HUGE for a catcher.

Dec 20, 2008 09:41 AM
rating: 0
 
ithistle

This phrase has been repeated since Mauer was drafted and he's not close to moving. I think he is disproving the "tall catchers don't work out" myth. Also, Wieters is listed at the same height and ten pounds heavier, so if true that would also apply to him.

Dec 22, 2008 07:56 AM
rating: 0
 
kevburgh

No it means Wieters upside is so great that he could pass Mauer.

Dec 20, 2008 09:00 AM
rating: 0
 
davidsk87

Of course, "could" and "will" are two very different expressions.

Dec 20, 2008 11:28 AM
rating: 0
 
ghruth

They're EXTREMELY different. And it sets up some horrible standard where if Wieters isn't (at least) a 6 win player he's some kind of disappointment.

If you want to take Wieters' potential over Mauer's production I (easily) win that bet 9 times out of 10.

Dec 21, 2008 06:22 AM
rating: 0
 
se517735

Boston likely isn't out of it in reality. But either way it's great that at last someone has called Boras as the liar he is. Now Boras needs to produce the higher offer he apparently claims he has.

Dec 20, 2008 12:30 PM
rating: 0
 
jashnew

I have a theory on the Red Sox making a offer. It was to up his price for the Yankees. Boras and the Red Sox got together and said lets up his price for the Yankees. The Red Sox signing Teixeira makes no sense with Youk and Lowell. Lowell is untradeable. I'm a Cardinal fan so I have no dog in the hunt. I feel he fits best with the Angels. I would love to be able to afford to live in Anaheim.

Dec 20, 2008 13:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

I'd say it's a little early to assert that Weiters will be better than Mauer. Could be better? Sure. Is likely to? I'm not even sure about that. The adjustment to the majors in uncertain.

Dec 20, 2008 13:51 PM
rating: 0
 
chunkstyle

From the beginning, I've thought Teixeira and the Orioles were a perfect match, but not for Joe's reasons.

Here we have a good player. Some might say he was very good. Fine. He's also 29. It's been said that he should age more gracefully than your average 1B. That may be a stretch, but lets take it. Your still looking at a guy who's gotten almost no MVP consideration in his career. And then you're going to give him one of the richest contracts in baseball?

And what if some of these sunny predictions for Teixeira don't come to pass? I mean, how surprising would it be if he did start his decline at age 31?

Another name comes to mind. The Rockies signed 27-year-old Todd Helton for nine years back in 2001. How well has that worked? While Helton has been very good at times, he's been expensive from day 1. The Rockies have had numerous 1B prospects forced around the diamond due to Helton's presence, the seeing their value evaporate. While they probably didn't anticipate the back problems that developed, the injury/contract combo makes him essentially unmovable.

True, the Rockies made it to the World Series after sneaking into the playoffs in the miracle run of 2007, and Helton had a good year. Does that alone make the Helton deal worthwhile? Even if you think so, the Orioles are not going to be in a position to make the playoffs in similar fashion if only because of their division.

I see Teixeira as a typical Orioles sign: an older player, overpaid almost from the start and a serious financial problem soon thereafter. As Teixeira's contract hamstrings the Orioles for most of the next decade, the other teams in the division will use their dollars far more efficiently.

I'm a bit surprised to see all the support for signing him around this site.

Dec 21, 2008 00:45 AM
rating: 2
 
ajblobaum

Why is Joe getting all pissy about the Meche signing? Are he and Rob Neyer still sitting in a corner complaining about how the Royals screwed themselves on that one?

Dec 21, 2008 13:26 PM
rating: 1
 
papadopoulos
(452)

" ... to compete with the nominal "big two" in the AL East ... " That would be the AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays, and, um, who else?

Dec 22, 2008 11:28 AM
rating: 0
 
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