The New York Yankees, thought to be on the fringes of the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, dramatically swooped in at the last moment to strike a deal for the biggest prize among position players on the free-agent market.
The Yankees, who in the last two weeks signed the top two starting pitchers on the market, left-hander CC Sabathia and right-hander A.J. Burnett, came to terms with Teixeira on Tuesday for an eight-year, $180 million deal.
Their stealth negotiations with the switch-hitting first baseman came as a staggering blow to their American League East archrivals, the Boston Red Sox, as well as the Los Angeles Angels, who had hoped to retain Teixeira after winning a franchise-best 100 games last season before dropping out of the bidding Sunday.
The other losers in the bidding for Teixeira were the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals, both of whom had hoped that Teixeira's interest in playing closer to his boyhood home of Severna Park, Md., would trump their also-ran status. The Orioles have 11 consecutive losing seasons while the Nationals lost a big-league-worst 102 games in 2008.
The Yankees, with money to spend after lopping $86 million off their 2008 payroll, have now likely invested more than $400 million in signing Sabathia, Burnett and now Teixeira, who make the Yankees instant favorites to supplant the Tampa Bay Rays as champions of the American League East.
The Yankees will have nine players being paid $13 million or more in 2009. Those nine players – Teixeira, Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, A.J. Burnett, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon – combine for $159.1 million, more than the payroll of any other team.
Last season the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, and with George Steinbrenner's sons, Hal and Hank, serving as the team's co-chairmen, with the elder Steinbrenner formally ceding control of the club to 39-year-old Hal last month, clearly no expense is being spared to return the club to October eminence.
The Red Sox had flown to Texas on Thursday night to meet with Teixeira and his agent, Scott Boras, then declared themselves all but out of the bidding, owner John W. Henry saying that "it seems clear that we are not going to be a factor" after Boras informed him that Teixeira had received better offers than the eight-year, $168 million proposal Boston had placed on the table. In essence, the Red Sox called Boras' bluff, challenging the agent to produce an offer better than theirs.
This is not the first prize the Red Sox have lost to the Yankees, who have in the past outbid them for free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon, free-agent pitcher Mike Mussina, Cuban defector Jose Contreras and long-time Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams, who was poised to jump to the Red Sox until George Steinbrenner personally intervened at the last moment.
On Sunday, the Angels, who had hoped that Teixeira would re-sign with them after a season in which they won a franchise-record 100 games with Teixeira batting .467 in a playoff loss to the Red Sox, withdrew their offer for eights years and $160 million. No reason was given, but it appears that Angels owner Arte Moreno decided the Angels would not be used to drive up Teixeira's price if his preference was to return to the East Coast.
Teixeira positioned himself perfectly to be this winter's highest-paid free-agent acquisition by hitting .358 with 13 home runs, 43 RBIs and a dazzling .449 on-base percentage in 54 games with the Angels after being acquired on July 29 from the Atlanta Braves. Teixeira, who led the Angels in every major offensive category and also played Gold Glove-caliber defense, hit .308 with a .410 OBP overall in '08, with 33 home runs and 121 RBIs.
He capped his performance by batting .467 against the Red Sox in his first-ever postseason experience, though the Red Sox succeeded in limiting him to seven singles in his 15 postseason at-bats.
During his stay with the Angels, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Teixeira lived in a guest house owned by Boras.
"He's the rock,'' Boras said in an interview this fall. "He's the type of client that I'd let stay in my house – which I did, after he got traded here.''
Buck Martinez, Teixeira's manager when he played for Team USA and went hitless in 15 at-bats, is impressed by his methodical, even-keel approach.
"A wonderful kid, professional as hell, well prepared,'' Martinez said. "He doesn't have to be the star. He's a complementary player more than an impact player.''
Boras has long praised Teixeira as a player with a sophisticated understanding of the baseball business. "He has the makeup of a CEO," Boras told Sports Illustrated in a recent interview. "He's not gregarious or emotional in his decision-making. He is very businesslike, very much about information."
Teixeira was drafted out of high school by the Red Sox, turning down a $1.5 million bonus to later sign with Texas for a $9.5 million major-league contract. The Rangers tried to lock up Teixeira long-term a year from free agency, but when he turned down an eight-year, $144 million offer, they traded him to Atlanta, where he'd gone to college at Georgia Tech.
The Braves, recognizing that Teixeira was intent on testing free agency, dealt him to the Angels. His family preferred that he sign with a team on the East Coast.
The Yankees, who had a $209 million payroll on Opening Day 2008, dropped $75 million on just five players: first baseman Jason Giambi ($21 million), outfielder Bobby Abreu ($16 million) and pitchers Andy Pettitte ($16 million), Mike Mussina ($11 million), and Carl Pavano ($11 million).
They now have under contract the four highest-paid players in the game, in terms of total value of the deal: Rodriguez, Jeter, Teixeira and Sabathia.