David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
TAMPA, Fla. - To date, the Yankees have spent $112.5 million on Mark Teixeira. The return on that investment? A five-year average of 27.6 homers and 87.4 RBIs. A .260/.355/.502 slash line. One World Series ring.
Could that be as good as it gets during his stay in the Bronx?
He says no. But he played only 15 games last season before needing July 1 surgery to repair a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist. The wrist, as you may have heard, is a crucial part of a hitter's mechanism, especially one who expects to hit for power.
Teixeira also turns 34 in April, an age when athletes begin to ache a little more getting out of bed in the morning.
"I have to loosen up my whole body," he said.
Still, the wrist is what everyone remains concerned about, and nothing he said or did Sunday will change that. Not his pledge to play 150-plus games, not fielding ground balls, not even taking batting practice from both sides of the plate.
The Yankees spent close to $500 million this offseason to buy themselves back into contention, but Teixeira remains a very expensive part of the Yankees' infrastructure -- at yet another infield position where they don't have a viable insurance policy.
Kelly Johnson is penciled in at third for the suspended Alex Rodriguez. Brian Roberts, if he stays healthy, will take over second for Robinson Cano. The presumption is that Derek Jeter can handle shortstop for the majority of games in his final season, but Brendan Ryan is ready to provide backup. The contingency plan for Teixeira? The guy we already mentioned at third.
In that regard, not much has changed in the past year for the Yankees, who had to scramble to audition Lyle Overbay in the final two games of spring training before bringing him north as the Opening Day starter in 2013.
Teixeira said he felt a little behind schedule coming in, but only because he's been protective of the wrist, and Joe Girardi will be mindful of that.
Around this time in 2013, Teixeira got hurt while hitting off a tee with Team USA, and the torn tendon sheath was blamed on his overly aggressive winter hitting program to prepare for the World Baseball Classic.
Now he is thinking about the long haul, and not just this season. He has three years and $67.5 million left on his contract, making him the second-highest-paid Yankee behind CC Sabathia in that period. Instead of sharing a lineup with Cano and A-Rod, he'll be surrounded with big-ticket newcomers Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann and 2013 midseason acquisition, Alfonso Soriano. Quite a different feel from the decimated roster Teixeira watched on TV during a restless summer.
"We're back to being the Yankees again," he said. "Last year, we weren't the Yankees."
But who is this Teixeira? Can he still be the 30-homer, 100-RBI slugger he was in his first three seasons with the Yankees? Or will advancing age and a stiff wrist make him less of a threat?
As with Jeter, the Yankees must wait for the answers to these types of questions. They'll settle for having him on the field, which would be a major upgrade from last year.
"I can't tell you exactly where his numbers are going to end up," Girardi said, "because a lot of times that depends on the guys in front of you. How much they're on, and your RBI opportunities -- and some of it's a little bit of luck. But I still think he'll be really productive."
In mid-February, everyone is an optimist. And with Teixeira finally back in uniform, he talked about the "silver lining" of his long rehab, which made him reflect on how much he loves playing baseball. It probably felt nice to be missed, too.
"I know when I'm out there and healthy," he said, "my team is a better team. And that's no different this year."
That's the plan, anyway. We'll see where he takes it from here.