CC Sabathia has been fairly excellent in his first two years as a Yankee. He has given the Yankees 467 innings of 3.27 ERA ball, and carried their rotation in the 2009 postseason. It is hard to be disappointed with his performance thus far. As such, most Yankees fans are hoping that he does not opt out of his contract after the 2011 season, as is his right. He has said on a number of occasions that he loves it in New York and will refrain from using his option, but we have heard that before from players such as Alex Rodriguez and AJ Burnett only to be surprised when they exercised their opt-outs. If CC has another good year in 2011, he may very well choose to re-enter the free agent fray, and the pending Cliff Lee deal may impact his decision.
CC’s status after 2011 is likely to be similar to that of Lee after 2010. CC will be a year younger than Lee is now, but he also has a lot more mileage on his arm and has been a bit worse that Lee over the last few seasons. As such, I would expect them to get fairly similar deals, such that the Lee deal could be an excellent template for CC and his agent to use to weigh whether it makes sense for the big left-hander to test the free agent waters.
Sabathia is due 23 million dollars a year from 2012-2015, meaning that he will have a 4 year deal worth 92 million dollars in hand when the 2011 season ends. If Cliff Lee does significantly better than that deal, and gets something along the lines of 5 years and 115 million dollars, CC might opt-out and sell himself as a younger version of Lee with a more extensive track record. However, if Lee does significantly worse than that number, I would expect CC to take the contract that he has in hand rather than risk the uncertainties of the free agent market. Complicating matters is that the Yankees may be the team that signs Lee, in which case they will have insurance against losing Sabathia. Jumping into a free agent market in which the Yankees are not a motivated player would be a dangerous move for Sabathia to make.
Ultimately, I think CC Sabathia will remain a Yankee for a long time. However, Cliff Lee’s new contract could muddy the waters and provide an impetus for CC to try and cash in one last time. Keep an eye on the value of that contract relative to CC’s existing deal, as it could provide a framework in which to evaluate Sabathia’s impending decision.
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