Young, talented and in demand, Teixeira is headed for a big payday
Lately, the overwhelming trend for young stars has been to sign early in their careers, to take the money and stay, so to speak.
That's what makes Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira such a rare breed. Incidentally, rare breeds don't come cheap these days. Neither do cleanup hitters, switch hitters or smooth fielders, and Teixeira is all of those things. He is also on the precipice of free agency, which is exactly where he wanted to be all along.
The mega contract awaits.
As a free-agent superstar under age 30 this winter, Teixeira will be in an increasingly select group. Only one other player (Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who's off to a dreadful start) fits that category.
David Wright signed a long-term deal early. Chase Utley did, too. Troy Tulowitzki already signed away some free agent years. And Robinson Cano did, too. Even Evan Longoria, who'd only played six big-league games at the time, did.
"Only late bloomers and Scott Boras clients ever make it to free agency anymore,'' one GM said, only exaggerating slightly.
Teixeira, who turned 28 last month, is no late bloomer. He's averaged 34 home runs and 111 RBIs over his first five seasons. And yes, he is a Boras client, one that will follow his agent's advice, play the field and hit the jackpot.
With the guts to wait for his payday (he turned down $140 million over eight years from the Rangers last summer before they traded him to the Braves) and the fortune of superb timing (three major-market teams should be looking for a first baseman), everyone agrees Teixeira is bound for big bucks even though he isn't off to his biggest start. He has four homers, 18 RBIs and is batting .258 so far.
"He played it just right,'' one admiring veteran said.
It can't hurt Teixeira that the market for first baseman has adjusted some now that the Tigers' young star Miguel Cabrera was switched there only weeks after signing a $141-million, seven-year extension. Cabrera was even two years from free agency at the time.
Teixeira won't name his price publicly. But someone who follows the markets and Boras predicts that the asking price could begin with "2's'' as in $20 million per year and $200 million total.
The real key to Teixeira's good fortune, and a big reason why he'll soon be making a forutne, is the fact that three big-revenue teams should have openings at first base: the Yankees, Mets and Mariners, who appear to be nearing the end with Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado and Richie Sexson, respectively. Call it the Teixeira Trifecta.
In the meantime, Teixeira continues to show respect in abundance for the Braves, who still have to seriously wonder whether they have any realistic chance to keep him.
"I think we'll have a better sense of that when the season's over,'' Braves GM Frank Wren said. "We'll see what the market looks like, and we'll see what it will take to sign Mark.'' Wren added that the Braves want to avoid spending too high a percentage on any one player.
One baseball executive who knows Teixeira well predicted, "No chance he stays. He's waited his whole life for this moment.''
For the most part, Teixeira will wait to discuss the situation as well.
"These are things to talk about at the end of the season,'' Teixeira says. "I'm not going to make any predictions. I'm enjoying playing in Atlanta ... and there's no doubt this organization is a winning organization. When I become a free agent, Atlanta's definitely in the mix.''
How about his hometown Orioles?
"The Orioles are close to my heart,'' Teixeira admitted.
"I have family in Baltimore,'' he continued. "But I have family in Georgia. And I have family in New York.'' (Teixeira's sister Elizabeth Durastanti and her husband Nick live in Hoboken, N.J. and work in New York City.)
Teixeira excels at the free-agent game, partly because he is that rare player who can stick to the script. It's a good one for him. "I love it. I love coming here,'' Teixeira said on a recent trip to New York. "I grew up in a big city. I went to college in a big city [Georgia Tech, in Atlanta]. I like having a lot of things to do.''
The way things are, he'll have a lot of things to choose from, too. One of them may still be the Braves -- though staying still seems like a long shot. While former Braves GM John Schuerholz surrendered a haul to get Teixeira last summer -- including highly-touted catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and top shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus -- Braves people also seem to take pride in not being a team to set the markets, never mind that they did so for years with Greg Maddux, another Boras client.
Teixeira and the Braves will only admit to having had "talks'' this winter. Neither side will say how they went, though it's apparent they aren't close to any contract.