Mark Teixeira was on a Hall of Fame track until injuries robbed him late in his career.
Baseball history is littered with players who began their careers on a Hall of Fame path before injuries or underperformance caught up with them. Former Atlanta Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira’s career didn’t really fizzle out, but injuries prevented him from reaching the high standard that he set for himself early on in his career. Teixeira played for four teams across a 14-year playing career. He will likely fall short of reaching the Hall of Fame, but still gave MLB and opposing pitchers quite a ride in most of those seasons.
Teixeira spurned the MLB Draft in 1998 (he was taken in the ninth round by the Red Sox, and has been outspoken since about his negative feelings about Boston’s practices ahead of the draft in pressuring him to agree to sign) and headed to Georgia Tech where as a third baseman, he became a two-time All-American while capturing the ACC’s Player of the Year Award. He was the recipient of the Dick Howser Trophy, which is given to the NCAA’s collegiate baseball player of the year, for his performance in 2000. He suffered a broken ankle in 2001 that limited him to just 16 games, but he had turned enough heads during his college career that the Texas Rangers selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2001 MLB Draft.
Teixeira moved quickly through the Rangers system in 2002 and earned a spot on the Major League roster out of Spring Training in 2003 while shifting to first base. He bashed 26 home runs as a rookie in 2003 and then clubbed 38 in 2004 while posting 4.2 fWAR. Teixeira took his game to yet another level in 2005 by setting career highs with 43 home runs, 112 runs scored and 144 RBI while hitting .301/.379/.575. His numbers slipped a bit in 2006 but they were still All-Star-caliber-ish as he finished with 33 home runs and a 121 wRC+ while playing in all 162 games for the second consecutive season.
It was around this time that the Rangers approached Teixeira about a long-term contract extension, but the two sides were unable to come to an agreement. Reports indicated that Teixeira’s agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a 10-year deal. The two sides eventually agreed on a two-year, $14.5 million extension, which effectively started the clock ticking on his remaining time in Texas.
With the Rangers struggling on the field in 2007, the team opted to make Teixeira available rather than risk losing him in free agency. Texas traded him to the Braves at the Trade Deadline in 2007, along with reliever Ron Mahay, in exchange for a bevy of prospects: shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and pitchers Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones. Saltalamacchia was considered to be the centerpiece of the deal for the Rangers, but it would be Andrus, Feliz and Harrison who would have the biggest impact for the club.
Atlanta’s string of division championships had come to an end in 2006. At the time of the trade, they were 56-51 and 3.5 games back in the division. Teixeira was hitting .297/.397/.524 with 24 doubles and 13 home runs at the time of the trade. He went on to hit .317/.404/.615 with 17 homers over the final 54 games with Atlanta. However, the Braves were unable to reach the postseason, finishing in third place in the division and five games back of the Philadelphia Phillies at 84-78.
The Braves were now placed in a similar situation as the Rangers, as they were never going to be able to give Teixeira the type of deal that he and Boras were looking for. Atlanta avoided arbitration with Teixeira by signing him to a one-year, $12.5 million deal. He hit .283/.390/.512 with 20 home runs over the first 103 games before Atlanta dealt him to the Angels in exchange for first baseman Casey Kotchman and minor league reliever Stephen Marek. Teixeira put up big numbers after he was dealt to Anaheim, hitting .358/.449/.632 with 13 home runs over the final 54 games. The Angels won 100 games and finished with the best record in the league, but were upset in the Division Series by the Red Sox.
From there, Teixeira agreed to an eight-year, $180 million deal with the New York Yankees. He again put up big numbers, posting a 142 wRC+, and played a big part in the postseason despite a weak overall playoffs line as the Yankees went on to capture another World Series title in 2009.
He again topped 30 homers in 2010 and 2011 while producing 3.5 and 4.3 fWAR respectively. Injuries began to creep in during the 2012 season, as a calf injury sidelined him down the stretch. He suffered a wrist injury in 2013 while training for the World Baseball Classic with Team USA. He struggled upon his return and then headed back to the shelf before undergoing season-ending surgery.
The wrist continued to be a problem in 2014 as he hit “just” .216/.313/.398 in over 500 plate appearances. He rebounded somewhat the next season, hitting 31 home runs with a 143 wRC+ in just 111 games due to a broken tibia that came when he fouled a ball off his shin. The final year of his contract was more of the same, as the injuries continued to pile up. Teixeira gutted himself through 116 games while producing a career-worst 76 wRC+. He announced that August that he would retire at the end of the season at the age of 36.
While it won’t be enough to get him to the Hall of Fame, Teixeira did put together a successful career. He is one of five switch-hitters to hit at least 400 home runs. He won five Gold Glove Awards, made five trips to the playoffs and won a World Series. Had injuries not slowed him late in his career, 500 home runs might have been in play, which would no doubt have aided his Hall of Fame chances. Still, it was a fine run and credit him for knowing when it was time to hang it up.
In the end, Teixeira finished his career with 44.8 fWAR, which is really not quite in Hall of Fame election range. While his defense and the injuries robbed him of some value, his career also lacked an egregiously-productive peak. His best single-season fWAR mark was 6.9, his best mark across two consecutive seasons was 12.1. If you extend to a three-season peak it’s “only” 16.5, and “only” 25.9 for a five-season peak. In short, Teixeira was All-Star level for seemingly forever, but he never really dominated the opposition like some of his peers.