Whither Mark Teahen?

Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Chicago White Sox are interested in moving Mark Teahen. With rookie Brent Morel seemingly slated to start at third this season, Teahen (last season’s third baseman to start the season) doesn’t have a place to start, and he’s a bit expensive to sit on the bench. However, the question is whether any other team has a place for Teahen to play or the desire to pay him what he is owed.

Teahen (along with $1.5 million) came to the White Sox from the Royals in a “six of one…” trade for Chris Getz and Josh Fields last off-season, and Chicago rather quickly gave him a three-year, $14 million extension. Teahen then rather quickly put together a disastrous 2010 season in Chicago, hitting .258/.327/.382 (85 wRC+) with terrible defense at third base (-10 UZR, -8 aggregate) for a total of -0.6 WAR over 77 games interrupted by injury. That performance probably sealed Teahen’s fate as a starter.

Things didn’t always look so bad. Teahen first came to public prominence in Moneyball, in which a member of the A’s front office (who drafted Teahen with the 39th pick of the first round in in 2002) is quoted as saying that Teahen could be another potential Jason Giambi. Teahen later came over to the Royals along with John Buck and Mike Wood as part of the 2004 three-way trade for two months Carlos Beltran. Teahen was slated to start 2005 in the minors, but after an injury to Chris Truby (ah, the Royals…), Teahen started the season in Kansas City, where he bombed spectacularly both at the plate (.246/.309/.376, 80 wRC+) and in the field (-18 UZR, -23 DRS) to the tune of -1.1 WAR over 130 games. He started poorly in 2006, but after a “wake-up-call” demotion, came up and killed the ball (.290/.357/.517, 127 wRC+) with average-ish defense at third during his age 25. Things were looking bright.

However, despite some of promising moments years ago, going into his age 29 season, Teahen looks like he is is slated for a career on the bench. Moved to the outfield in 2007 to make room for Alex Gordon, Teahen’s bat, while not collapsing, was barely average. While his UZR in the outfield for 2007 looked promising, in retrospect almost all of that was his rating for throwing out and holding baserunners, and one wonders how much of that is runners testing the arm of a newly-minted outfielder. Teahen moved between the outfield and third (with brief sojourn at second) for Kansas City to account for injuries, and his bat never again reached league-average level. With the bat, the “next Jason Giambi” not only never showed anything like his 2006 power levels again, and even more troubling, dropped to below league-average walk rates in 2008 and 2009 as his plate discipline seemed to fall apart.

What kind of player is Teahen now? In 2010, his walk rate jumped back above average but despite his move to a friendler environs for home runs and posting the highest walk rate of his career, his isolated power and strikeout rates were his career worst. Combined with his terrible defense and Morel apparently being ready for the big leagues, the White Sox, with their eyes on contention, understandably don’t seemed inclined with hope for an “age 29 breakout.” Could the White Sox could get anything back for him? Most projection systems (excluding the seemingly-always-optimistic Bill James projections) have Teahen somwhere between just league average and minus 6 runs over a full season. That wouldn’t be that bad, actually, if Teahen could play third base acceptably. As we’ve seen, that probably isn’t the case — he’s probably a minus five defender over a full season at the very best, and it’s probably worse than that. On the outfield corners, he’s average at the very best, probably a bit below. Altogether, Teahen is probably a between one and 1.5 WAR over a full season. Assuming half that as a backup, the White Sox understandably don’t want to pay that salary. However, it isn’t clear that any other team needs a starter of Teahen’s abilities at this point at any of his possible positions, and paying him like that as a bench player wouldn’t make sense for them, either.

Chicago is probably stuck with Teahen. It isn’t the end of the world. With Dayan Viciedo injured to start the season, and Morel needing some days off, Teahen will have his uses as a fill-in third baseman. Moreover, with Carlos Quentin starting in right field, it isn’t as if Teahen wouldn’t have his opportunities to play out there, either. It’s a lot of money for a mediocre-hitting and poor-fielding backup corner-man, but the White Sox are gong to be on the hook for it either way (if they do manage to find a trade partner, they are likely to have to eat a good portion of Teahen’s contract), and in a contending season, they could do worse for a bench player. He’s a better option than either Brent Lillibridge or arch-lich Omar Vizquel. All things considered, at this point the White Sox might be better off loving the one they stuck themselves with.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

18 Responses to “Whither Mark Teahen?”

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  1. Put me in coach says:

    I don’t know if they have a place for him, but a player with his versatility is a wet dream for Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals.

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  2. glp says:

    I was absolutely astounded when the White Sox gave Teahen a multi-year contract; he should be a perennial non-tender candidate. I guess Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen were blinded by the fact that he always pounded the Sox – and Buehrle in particular – while with the Royals, and never realized that he couldn’t do squat against anybody else.

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  3. rotofan says:

    Typo on Morel – It’s Brent, not Brett, though White Sox fans no doubt hopes he hits like the latter.

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  4. Cidron says:

    according to your second paragraph, the dude is .. an early starter, already posting a 2011 season statline !

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    +1 on the Skip comment. We already have our Teahen, and we used to have the market cornered on replacement level OFs getting too many PA’s.

    The Teahen acquisition was a bad one, but I’m not sure that many thought it would be this bad.

    Looking at his stats it,s curious how he fell so fast. His power seems to be the culprit. Now, it seems to be just a matter of time before he appears on a milk carton, for lack of a better expression.

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  6. Sophist says:

    The Sox are on the line for $10m with Teahen. Trading him, I’d presume that they have to eat at least half that. But here’s the thing: at $2.5 million a year, what kind of value does he have to another team? Considering he’s a left-handed bat, with some “versatility” and a (slim) chance at a break-out year, wouldn’t a price like that be worth it for some teams?

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  7. MikeS says:

    As you point out, he has some use. He’s a lefthanded bat and as a slightly below average corner outfielder he’s actually better than a lot of the guys who are just out there for the bat – I’m looking at you, Carlos Quentin. He can fill in at third and maybe second. A little pop, not molasses-slow. A nice guy to have on the bench. Maybe more useful in the NL where a merely below average bat is more useful and position players are needed for double switches. Problem is, most teams could probably find a guy in the minors and pay him league minimum so the White Sox are going to have to eat a substantial amount of the contract and aren’t going to get much of anything back. The main reason to move him would be to open up a roster spot, if that’s not needed might as well hang on to him and see if somebody has a need come July. You might get just a little better deal if a team in the fringe of contention has some injuries to patch over.

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  8. buffalorun32 says:

    he’s hitting .435/.581/.696 this spring with 8 walks and 3 k’s, but shhhh don’t tell anyone

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  9. Cidron says:

    wow, spring stats.. those are always good things to put stock in. KC has the second best record (14-7) .. they are goin to the WS this year?

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  10. Paul says:

    Last year Matt wrote an article about how much he liked the Buck signing by Toronto. Maybe Buck has really broken out and will keep on being a decent power option for Florida, but with KC he had trouble just squaring up balls so often that I didn’t think he could ever have a season like that. Problem is Teahen is much more talented than Buck, but his head would never allow him just to “let ‘er rip” like Buck did last year. But Buck was never just up there afraid to hit, he was being asked to be a complete hitter, which he is not. At the MLB level hitters are mostly “aggressive” or “patient.” Mark Teahen is “afraid” and I’m really not sure how you fix that.

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