In retrospect, nothing about Mark Teixeira’s signing should have come as a surprise. The Yankees had a weakness in their lineup and at first base that could be addressed by the best position player in the free-agent market. That shortcoming created an opening for Teixeira to seek an eight-year, $180 million windfall.
The sum might seem absurd. Even so, it would be difficult to identify a deficiency that would have prevented Teixeira from becoming one of the top paid players in the game.
He has emerged as one of the top sluggers in the game in the last couple of seasons. At 28, Teixeira is likely to sustain or even improve upon his recent excellence.
Friends, coaches and former teammates describe him as outgoing and extremely likable, a positive clubhouse influence whose tireless work ethic is at the heart of his improvement. Those who have known him since high school cannot recall a single blemish on his squeaky clean reputation.
Yet it is natural for fans and perhaps even some baseball officials of the clubs that Teixeira dismissed in free agency—the Angels, Nationals, Orioles and Red Sox—to shake their heads disapprovingly at the notion of Teixeira in pinstripes, to search for something to criticize. And so a simple critique might feature a phrase that has followed Teixeira for some time: “Perfect Scott Boras client.”
The meaning of that notion—and whether it should be considered criticism—is subject to debate. All the same, it is nearly impossible to argue with the claim. Even Teixeira’s self-description upon being traded this past summer from the Braves to the Angels (for whom he debuted on July 30 in Fenway Park) did nothing to undermine the sense that he is a baseball-playing businessman.
“People in Atlanta gave me a hard time, joking around, saying I’m all business,” Teixeira said prior to his Angels debut. “I am. I’m boring. I get to the ballpark at the same time everyday, stretch out, hit in the cage, take (batting practice), get in the game. There’s not much else that goes on for me. I’m here to work.”
That assessment is, at least in some ways, illuminating. Teixeira is not merely one of the top players in baseball, but also someone who is unafraid of the business of baseball. He applies the same competitive nature to both the playing field and negotiating table.
“He’s a very competitive person, which helps in the game but also in the business side of things,” said former college roommate and teammate Victor Menocal, now a baseball agent. “You’re motivated. You want to beat everyone else. I think a lot of those things helped Mark get to where he is today.”
A TEENAGE BUSINESSMAN
It was, after all, Teixeira who, as one of the top high school talents in the country, decided to entrust his future to Boras, the super-agent.
Already, the young Teixeira had shown an independent, business-minded streak. Mount Saint Joseph High School baseball coach Dave Norton had joined the school’s principal and soccer coach in encouraging the heralded baseball amateur to play soccer in the fall of his senior year.
But with a constant flood of scouts watching his every move on the diamond, Teixeira was willing to take a narrow path to success. The future baseball star thought it necessary to focus on his vocation. Though he enjoyed soccer, and was an extremely skilled player, Teixeira abandoned the second sport.
“He looked at it, and said, ‘No—I really need to concentrate on baseball,’” said Norton. “He went against what I said—his baseball coach—to concentrate on baseball.”
It was around that time that Teixeira entered the business world of baseball. He was physically mature for his age, and featured massive power from both sides of the plate even as a high schooler. He was considered one of the elite amateur players in the country, a likely first-round pick, and needed an advisor.
Norton, Teixeira’s coach at Mount Saint Joseph’s in Baltimore, encouraged the player and his family to consider enlisting Ron Shapiro. Shapiro had a long history of representing Orioles players, and is one of the most respected agents in the business.
Shapiro is not a believer in a purely adversarial negotiating process. He is, after all, the author of a book called “The Power of Nice: How to Negotiate So Everyone Wins,” which emphasizes cooperative relationships between negotiating parties.
But Shapiro was, by Norton’s recollection, roughly an hour late to the introductory meeting with his potential client. And so, perhaps in part due to that misstep, and despite advice to the contrary, Teixeira made a decision to go with Boras, an agent notorious for his efforts to bleed every available dollar out of clubs.
“That wasn’t mom and dad telling him (to go with Boras),” Norton said with admiration for the maturity of the young player’s conviction. “I was trying to get him to go the other way. That was (Teixeira’s) decision.”
The decision was not accidental. Rather, it gave a clear indication that Teixeira was interested in maximizing his worth, and not accepting less than maximum market value. That approach has consistently played out throughout Teixeira’s career.
WALKING AWAY FROM RED SOX MILLIONS (THE FIRST TIME)
Though Teixeira was viewed as one of the finest talents in the country as a high school third baseman, Red Sox director of amateur scouting Wayne Britton was believed to have circulated word that the player would not sign under any circumstances. Teixeira, it was suggested strongly, planned to honor his commitment to play college ball at Georgia Tech.
The rumor was a falsehood: though Teixeira and his family felt that college was the best course, he was ready to sign if he received a bonus commensurate with one of the top picks in the draft. The Sox were aware of this.
Despite having informed other clubs that the prospect was unsignable, Boston approached Teixeira just prior to the draft to see if he would accept a $1.5 million bonus. Teixeira told them he would not take such a sum, believing that he would be able to sign for more if taken in the first round. All the same, the Sox selected him in the ninth round.
“When he didn’t go in the first round, we were kind of like, ‘Oh, boy—I wonder what’s going on,’” said Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall. “I want to say that later that day, Wayne Britton called me. He told me, ‘This is what we offered him, and he turned it down the night before the draft.’ He sounded like, ‘Can you believe he did that?’ I said, ‘If he turned that down, then why did you guys take him in the ninth round?’”
Later in the day, Hall talked to Teixeira, who was one of four Georgia Tech recruits to have been drafted out of high school that year. The Yellow Jackets’ coach recalled the teenager outlining a plan that he ended up enacting to perfection.
“His comment to me was, ‘You can count on me coming to school,’” Hall said. “There’s no way I’m signing. And give me the other three guys’ phone numbers and I’ll call them and make sure we have a great recruiting class.’
Teixeira did just that. All four draftees ended up joining the Yellow Jackets. Menocal, who had been taken in the sixth round by his hometown Braves, was so fired up after talking to his future roommate and teammate that he had made the decision to fulfill his commitment to Georgia Tech by the time he hung up the phone.
When Teixeira arrived at Georgia Tech, Menocal was impressed at both his jaw-dropping talent—the switch-hitter showed obscene power as a freshman, effortlessly clearing the fences from both sides of the plate—and also at his professional approach to his craft.
As a college freshman, Teixeira had a plan. He was easygoing, and made friends easily, but also showed meticulous concern for his future livelihood. He was careful about what he ate, tireless in his commitment to the weight room, and typically the first person in his rooming group to go to bed every night.
Menocal, who introduced Teixeira to his future wife at Georgia Tech, remembered that his teammate endured plenty of incredulous reactions from people who could not believe he walked away from the Boston offer. Teixeira found it easy to shrug off any criticism of that decision.
“Mark’s always been a guy, he doesn’t let what others say about him bother him. He just uses it to his advantage,” said Menocal. “A guy that turns down over $1 million to go to school, there were guys questioning him, asking why he did this, especially with a team like the Red Sox. He caught a bunch of grief from not just players but people who knew him on campus, people from other schools.
“There were so many risks there—getting injured in school, or going to that next level and not having the success and turning out the player you thought you were going to be coming out of high school. But Mark, he had that determination. He was going to work his butt off to get there,” Menocal continued. “He said it was a goal of his to get better and to prove everyone wrong, that he could make more money coming out of college than he would have coming out of high school. Obviously, he did that. It was pretty impressive.”
Indeed, Teixeira blossomed on the field. He was named the outstanding college player in the country as a sophomore, when he hit 18 homers. Though he missed 10 weeks of his junior year with a broken ankle, he returned late that season and, in his first game back, went 3-for-4 with a double.
Teixeira’s college career resulted in the fulfillment of his promise. He was drafted fifth overall by the Rangers in 2001, and signed a four-year, $9.5 million deal with Texas that included a $4.5 million signing bonus.
BIDING HIS TIME FOR FREE AGENCY
Teixeira was converted from third to first base as a professional, and worked tirelessly to become a Gold Glover. The switch-hitter also showed the same batting abilities as a pro that had left jaws hanging in college, as he has become one of just 25 hitters in baseball history to launch 30 homers in five seasons through his age 28 season.
The Rangers wanted to make Teixeira a centerpiece of their future. A couple years ago, the club approached him with a reported offer of eight years and $140 million. Teixeira, confident that his abilities would warrant an even bigger contract on the open market, turned down that security.
His interest in reaching free agency thus led to a pair of trades in the past two seasons, first from Texas to the Braves in 2007, then from Atlanta to the Angels this past season. Finally, he reached free agency as a rare gem: a 28-year-old power hitter in the prime of his career who is capable of transforming lineups. The eight-year, $180 million windfall that Teixeira received from the Yankees merely confirmed the accuracy of his forecasted course of action.
“When fans or media crushed him about turning down the $140 from the Rangers, (asking) what was he thinking, he could use that as motivation,” said Menocal. “If he thinks he’s worth a certain amount of money, then he’ll do whatever he can to get to it. He’s made some risky moves in his life, but there’s not too many people that confident to make those moves.”
Teixeira had the confidence in his abilities to walk away from nine-figure sums that would guarantee financial security to generations so that he could take part in a free-agent process for which he seemed both well-suited and eager.
“I always said that he knew exactly where he wanted to go and he knew how he was going to get there,” Georgia Tech’s Hall said last week, as the free-agent process was still playing out. “There’s things right now, some of it is out of his control, but he’s still in control of the whole situation. I know he has been totally engaged in the entire process of being a free agent. I know that for sure.”
The outcome certainly suggests as much. Teixeira seemingly got everything he wanted: a top-dollar contract for a Yankees club with legitimate, perennial championship ambitions close to his native stomping grounds in Baltimore.
For the second time, the marriage of Teixeira’s extraordinary on-field talent with a precise business vision led him away from the Red Sox, this time, to a future in the Bronx. Despite the shock of that outcome in New England, there is nothing in the past of either Teixeira or the Yankees that rendered it surprising.
Alex Speier is a senior writer for WEEI.com.