As we continue to refocus our attention on the returning part of this remade Yankee roster, let's shift said attention from the position players who are still in their physical primes to a couple who are not. In a perfect world, a team getting 2 legitimate switch-hitting power threats who usually produce well from both sides of the plate back in its lineup would be a major boost. In the Yankees' world, the return of Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira to the lineup may not end up helping at all.
And make no mistake, these guys are switch-hitting studs when it comes to the back of the baseball cards. Teix has a .914 career OPS hitting righty against southpaws and .865 from the left side of the plate. Beltran is .862 hitting from the right side and .860 from the left. In their primes, these were 2 of the best offensive players at their respective positions and 2 of the best all-around hitters in the game.
Unfortunately, the recent production hasn't lived up to the career averages as these 2 have moved into their mid-late 30s. Teix and Beltran are both perfect representations of past-their-prime former stars who have started falling victim to Father Time. 2014 saw both of them struggle with injury problems and dramatic decreases in production, the latter almost assuredly impacted by the former. They've both spent the offseason recovering from their physical problems and vowing to come back better than they were last year, and publicly the Yankees have been very vocal in their belief that that's what is going to happen. But behind closed doors, are they really that confident? Do they have reason to be?
Teix REEEEALLY struggled last year. He struggled to stay on the field, he struggled to navigate the shift that teams employed on him when he hit from the left side, and he struggled to hit for the type of power that we're accustomed to seeing from him. His .398 SLG was almost 100 points below his previous full-season low, and his 23.5% K rate against right-handed pitching was incredibly disconcerting. Teix himself chalked a lot of that up to the lingering wrist problems and lack of strength he had from altering his usual offseason workout program. He's apparently going hard at that again this offseason in an effort to come back stronger, but at 35 can we really expect that to happen? It's not like he's been a pillar of health in general. His body could just be breaking down.
Beltran doesn't appear to be in that dire a situation just yet, at least not if you want to attribute his poor performance last season to the bone spur in his elbow that has since been removed. Like Teix, his SLG % dropped almost 100 points from his career average, and his 16.5% LD rate was the lowest since 2004, a season in which Beltran hit 38 home runs and scored 121 runs. He just didn't swing the bat with any authority last year. Considering how durable and consistent he had been with the Cardinals, it's not out of the question to think that it was more elbow than natural hitting skill deterioration that led to the big drop in production.
That said, there is a disturbing trend to Beltran's L/R splits. Those near identical career averages have drifted way apart over the last few years, particularly facing lefties as a right-handed hitter. In 2013, he OPS'd .729 from the right side compared to .871 from the left. That's a .252/.281/.448 slash line. Last year that slash line went down to .196/.242/.322, with a noticeably higher percentage of strikeouts and lower percentage of walks against lefties. Elbow health aside, Beltran has slipped big time as a right-handed hitter.
The Yankees obviously knew and were already concerned about that trend, otherwise they wouldn't have been so quick to re-sign Chris Young. It does seem as though there is already a plan in place to turn Beltran into a platoon bat this year. That might not be the worst idea in the world if it helps keep him healthy and productive hitting from his better side, but what about Teix? He wasn't all that great hitting from either side last year, and there isn't an ideal platoon partner for him anywhere on the roster who can match his defensive value. The plan for him might just have to be hope for the best and hope that another offseason of strengthening has helped him overcome the wrist problems that sapped so much of his power last season.
Beltran and Teix are the latest vintage in a long series of modern day Yankee overpays. They're still on the books for guys who hit like they do on the back of their baseball cards, but their recent production hasn't sniffed those levels. They're incredibly important to the success of the team in 2015, as they're certainly going to be penciled into run-producing spots in the lineup. If they can each bounce back to be age-appropriate approximations of who they were at their peaks, that would be fantastic. If they continue down the path of regression and physical deterioration, it could be another long, low-scoring year.