Two of the most notable contracts Brian Cashman has negotiated in his time as General Manager have been given to first basemen: Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira. Today, I take a look at those two deals, along with the other first base/designated hitter types he’s brought in via free agency. If you haven’t read any of the other breakdowns of Cashman’s free agency performance, please see the links at the bottom of this article.
After adjusting salaries to present day values, based on the change in average pay, Doug Mientkiewicz and Tony Clark come out as the only good-value additions Cashman has made at the position. Mientkiewicz’ 2007 was a lot better than I recall, posting a 110 wRC+ in 192 plate appearances. Clark, now the Executive Director of the Players Association, walloped 16 homers in 2004, but wasn’t all that special otherwise. His low salary made it pretty difficult for it to come back to bite the Yankees.
Tino Martinez‘ return to pinstripes in 2005 turned out to be the last season of his career. He actually got a decent chunk of time (328 plate appearances) and hit 17 home runs, but was intended to be more of a defensive replacement Giambi. Injuries doomed a few of the signings: Nick Johnson and Travis Lee in particular. Travis Hafner also struggled with his health, but did manage 299 trips to the dish. Ron Coomer was brought in as a reserve, and didn’t do much in the role.
Giambi’s deal is teetering on the ledge of being a fair deal per this analysis. Had he been able to stay healthy in 2004 and 2007, there’s no doubt he would have been out of the red category. The Giambino posted some huge offensive seasons in the Bronx: five of his seven seasons he posted a wRC+ of 131 or greater, peaking at 175.
Teixeira, one of the prize signings entering 2009, is going downhill – and fast. His hitting has been in decline each season since joining the team, and he’s struggled to stay healthy in recent years. It’s hard to be optimistic about him going forward, with three more years remaining on his deal.
It’s worth mentioning that first basemen tend to get paid more than other positions. From Matt Swartz’ study, from 2007-2011, teams paid $7.53M per fWAR for other team’s first basemen (via free agency). If we assume that’s roughly been the same number accounting for inflation of salaries during Cashman’s tenure, then those contracts highlighted in red look slightly less bad. In fact, Giambi’s deal would be considered a success.
Cashman hasn’t had to sign many first basemen during his time at the helm, but if we’re going to judge him at this position, I think it’s most important to look at his two largest investments at the spot. I’m willing to give him a little more credit for the Giambi deal than this breakdown gives, but I must admit the Teixeira deal is looking poor. This isn’t to say I wish the Yankees could go back and not add Teixeira, because I’d do that again in a heartbeat. At the time, I don’t believe anyone thought Teix would be in serious decline by his age-32 season. Depending on how much longer Cashman remains GM, I’d bet he’ll try transitioning players (e.g. Brian McCann) to first base instead of adding via free agency once Teixeira’s deal expires.
Other posts in this series:
Photo by User Googie man [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons