Why Angels need to sign Teixeira
Free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira is being coveted by several teams
His skills in the field and his approach at the plate are perfect for the Angels
Teixeira batted .358 with 43 RBIs in 54 games after being traded to the Angels
Scott Boras watches every game at Angel Stadium from a subterranean luxury box behind home plate, close enough to the action that when Garret Anderson bats, Boras playfully signals to him what pitch he thinks is coming next, and Anderson signals back. Boras follows all major-league teams, but none more closely than the Angels.
When first baseman Mark Teixeira, another Boras client, was traded to the Angels in late July, he spent four days living in Boras's three-bedroom guest house in Newport Beach. After games, they would eat dinner on the deck by the pool, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the twinkling lights of downtown Newport. They talked about family, free agency and what to expect from the fans and media in the Los Angeles market. But mostly, they talked about the Angels. "He told me it's an organization that does things right," Teixeira said.
The Angels, in many ways, are a model franchise. They have an owner who is willing to spend. They have continuity on their coaching staff. They have diversity in their front office as well as their clubhouse. Their stadium is packed every night, in part because they are always in contention, and in part because they play an unusually entertaining brand of baseball, taught from the lowest levels of their minor-league system. If a pitch is close, they swing. If a base is open, they steal. Every game is a sprint.
Teixeira, with his patient and methodical approach, has very little in common with the rest of the Angels headliners. And that is exactly why they need to re-sign him.
For the most part, the Angels' breakneck style has served them well, and not just at the box office. They have run their way to four American League West titles over the past five years, successfully toeing the line that separates aggressive from reckless. But in those five years, they have captured only one playoff series, bowing out three times to the Red Sox in the first round. Last season, the Angels won an AL-best 100 games in the regular season but again became unglued against the Red Sox in the American League Division Series, booting grounders, running themselves out of big innings, chasing even more pitches than usual. Fittingly, they lost the series when shortstop Erick Aybar whiffed on a squeeze play. The Angels, famous for their foot-speed, looked too fast for their own good.
Teixeira, making his post-season debut, was among the few players who did not trip over himself. He batted .447 with a .550 on-base percentage and several sparkling defensive plays. He demonstrated the poise that other Angels have at times lacked.
Every off-season, Anaheim is among the most attractive free agent destinations because the Angels can offer competitive salaries, a winning organization, a desirable locale and a fan base that is supportive but not overbearing. With Teixeira, however, the Angels do not have the usual advantage. He is from Maryland and describes himself as an "East Coast person." The Angels have called Teixeira their top priority this off-season and reportedly offered him an eight-year contract which would make him the richest free agent in franchise history and one of the richest ever. But they are waiting for the Red Sox to bid. Yet another loss to the Red Sox would be devastating for the Angels -- not only would it widen the gap between the two teams, it might also take the Angels from the ranks of the elite. They would still be favored to win their division, but nothing more.
Historically, the Red Sox have not done well negotiating with Teixeira. They were prepared to draft him in the first round out of high school in 1998, but when Teixeira would not agree to a $1.5 million signing bonus before the draft, he fell dramatically. The Red Sox finally picked Teixeira in the ninth round, but he chose to enroll at Georgia Tech, blaming the Red Sox for telling other teams he would be impossible to sign. Asked about the incident in September, Teixeira downplayed it: "Best thing that ever happened to me," he said. Since '98, the Red Sox front office has completely changed, and it is highly unlikely Teixeira will have any bias against them.
The Red Sox, a team that already works counts and values on-base percentage, want Teixeira because he will fit right in. The Angels, on the other hand, want him because he will stand out. Since the Angels won the World Series in 2002, they have never finished a season ranked among the top 20 in walks. Teixeira, by contrast, is regarded as one of the most disciplined and selective sluggers in the major leagues. He can show a team full of free-swingers how to sit back and wait for their pitch.
During an interview late last season, Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said of Teixeira: "He's like Barry Bonds. He never, ever expands the zone. He'll take, take, take, take, and out of no where he'll just unload. He'll tell me in the dugout sometimes, 'This is what a pitcher is going to throw me,' and more often than not it's exactly what he throws him. As for the other guys on our team, all they can do is watch and learn."
Centerfielder Torii Hunter, who used to hit behind catcher Joe Mauer in Minnesota, studies Teixeira the same way he used to study Mauer. "They don't swing at any pitch that isn't theirs," Hunter said. "It makes all of us want to have better at-bats. You don't want to be the guy who goes up after he walks and swings at the first pitch."
Traditionally, Boras's big-name clients have a pretty simple way of making their free-agent decisions -- they sign with the team that offers them the most money. But it is very possible that the Red Sox, Angels, Nationals and/or Orioles will make similar eight-year offers to Teixeira, separated by only a few million dollars. If Teixeira wants to go home, he can pick the Nationals or the Orioles. If he wants to play for a winner, as he has indicated to Boras, he can pick the Red Sox or the Angels. The Red Sox could make room for Teixeira by moving Kevin Youkilis from first base to third and trading Mike Lowell. For them, Teixeira would be a luxury. For the Angels, he is a necessity.