From Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:
Two winters ago, Mark Teixeira, the top free agent on the market, listened to Baltimore’s offer and scoffed at it. He ended up signing with the New York Yankees for $180 million, and Baltimore, as usual, played second fiddle..
“We were legit on Teixeira,” MacPhail said. “If you superimposed him on our lineup now, 28, with great work habits, played a position where you could expect him to perform over a long-term deal, local kid. He really would be somebody you could go out for. But if you’re wrong …”
Now, this post is not about the blossoming Orioles, nor is it about Mark Teixeira’s perfectly understandable decision to join the Yankees on an 8-year contract. Instead, Andy MacPhail’s comment, that Teixeira “played a position where you could expect him to perform over a long-term deal,” is what interests me the most for this particular post.
This year, the Yankees were unwilling to spend big dollars on arguably the best and most complete corner outfielder in baseball, Matt Holliday. The Yankees’ decision, it seems, was driven by the fact that Holliday was a left fielder and, while he is possibly the best left fielder in the game, there are still a number of players that can man the position at a much lower cost and many of them would do so admirably. However, in addition to that, providing a long-term contract to a left fielder, or to any outfielder, really, can be a dangerous proposition. As we have seen with Hideki Matsui throughout the course of his 4-year deal which ended this year – whether we are discussing his knees or his gruesome wrist injury from 2006 – health concerns can arise and may severely limit an outfielder’s overall value and production. Outfielders are constantly on the move, sprinting relatively long distances in the outfield, diving and making abrupt stops. Therefore, placing a $100 million dollar investment in the outfield can ultimately prove to be a parlous decision, especially when one considers the steady stream of corner OFs available on a year-to-year basis.
This is why – or, I should say, this is partially why – the Yankees chose to sign Mark Teixeira a year ago rather than Matt Holliday now. The Yankees felt a certain level of comfort investing $180 million in Teixeira because he is not a corner outfielder. They know that the wear and tear a player’s body experiences at first base is generally not as damaging as the daily outfield grind. Teixeira, then, can be expected to perform at his position for an 8-year period.
This, though, brings me to another position, one which is even more physically demanding than the role of any outfielder, and that is the catcher’s position. Given the way that Jorge Posada’s two-year tenure has played out since resigning with the Yankees after his stellar 2007 campaign, it is clear that while catcher investments with players worthy of investment can be extremely rewarding, they are are, from a contractual/financial perspective, also extremely dangerous. When one considers MacPhail’s statement about manning a position where a player can be expected to perform over the life of a long-term deal, catchers are understandably absent from that conversation.
For this reason, assuming he doesn’t sign an extension and enters free agency after the 2010 season, I wonder what will happen with Minnesota’s Joe Mauer. While he is certainly deserving of a deal like Teixeira’s (and will probably receive one similar to it), Mauer’s position is both a gift and a curse in that the superior production he provides behind the plate is why he will receive a huge deal, however, the position itself also forces teams to question investing in him on a long-term basis. On top of that, Mauer’s medical history is hardly clean, which adds to the concern of providing him a seven or eight year contract. If he becomes a free agent, the Yankees will definitely go after him – that is a foregone conclusion – though, I wonder if they will be or perhaps should be hesitant to sign the young MVP given the investment’s many inherent red flags (after a few years, Mauer could switch positions in order to preserve his body, although such an idea diminishes his value). After all, such was the case with Holliday. Of course, Mauer is different from Holliday in that his overall production is better (and is more proven in the American League) and such production at catcher – a premium, up-the-middle position – is essentially impossible to find elsewhere.
In the end, it may all come down to risk versus reward. Regardless of what I have written here pertaining to potentially perilous positional investments, the rewards Joe Mauer can provide (offensively, defensively, personality-wise) are likely too great to pass up. With the Yankees’ catcher contract track record in mind – they gave Posada a 4-year deal worth $52.4 million when he was 36-years old – and if given an opportunity to pursue him as a free agent, I believe the Yankees would eventually deem the risk and uncertainty of a long-term deal for a 28-year old catcher of Mauer’s abilities as both secondary and worthwhile given the possible benefits involved. He may not play a position where “you could expect him to perform over a long-term deal,” however, that is ultimately why he is so valuable, right?
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