The following is a guest post by friend of the blog and frequent commenter T.O. Chris.
A major point of contention for Yankee fans in the not-so-distant future concerns the opt-out clause of CC Sabathia. Since inking his 7-year, $161 million pact on December 18, 2008, the clause hadn’t generated much discussion, but as the Yankees’ rotation needs have taken center stage and with Sabathia entering the last year before the opt-out kicks in, it’s become a hot topic for many of us in Yankeeland.
I’ll admit I was among the group who originally thought CC might not opt out and would stick to the obligation of essentially the 4-year, $89 million remaining on his contract after the 2011 season; however, after several conflicting statements from Sabathia himself, plenty of debate amongst the Yankee blogosphere and the major media and statements from “sources close” to the man (which usually means the author’s brain) it seems like the consensus is that he will activate the opt-out and tear up his contract for a new deal.
Something I did not expect as I have broached this subject more and more is that the question I am being confronted with by many I respect is not whether or not the Yankees should re-sign Sabathia once (if) he opts out, but instead how much he’ll get when he does.
It seems as though many have skipped the most important question altogether, namely the evaluation of whether or not it makes sense for the Yankees to bring back their ace for another five to seven seasons for what would presumably be somewhere in the range of $120 to 170 million.
We all know how valuable Sabathia has been to the Yankees, and I would be preaching to the choir if I went into just how good CC has been over the past two seasons and how important he was to the team’s 2009 championship, but — and bear with me for a second here — maybe allowing Sabathia to leave is ultimately the best thing for the Yankees. I know this isn’t an idea that is going to get a standing ovation, in all actuality it will probably get me brought up on treason in Yankeeland, but if you take a moment to think about it what I’m proposing, it should make sense, at least on some level.
First of all, we know that teams don’t sign pitchers (or anyone for that matter) to six and seven-year contracts because they want to — they do it because that is what it takes for them to land the big-name pitcher on the block, because if they don’t do it someone else will. However, what teams do when they bestow six- to seven-year contracts (even for the best and most durable pitchers) is tempt fate — they aren’t just buying a pitcher, they are also placing a bet that throwing a baseball in an unnatural motion over 100 times a game, 32 to 35 games a year for six years isn’t going to harm said pitcher’s arm. These teams simultaneously bet that time will not catch up to the player in the years he is under contract in hopes that he will remain as close to the talent level the team signs him at for the length (or close to the length) of the contract. By extending Sabathia another two to three years, all the Yankees are doing is raising the odds that their bet won’t pan out.
It’s the exception, not the rule when a pitcher doesn’t see the DL, and the longer that pitcher goes without getting injured, the larger the chance becomes that he will break down at some point — we all saw with Pettitte that the older he got the more time he missed.
With this under consideration, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone being angry or demanding that Cashman add four years to the contract if the Yankees had been able to sign Sabathia to a three-year, $72 million deal in 2008. At that point I think most Yankee fans would’ve jumped for joy and proclaimed Cashman a genius — despite the fact this is a highly improbably hypothetical — yet if Sabathia opts out that is essentially what Cashman accomplished. However, because Sabathia’s opting out the sky is falling.
Most players’ prime years are from around ages 28 to 32 — because of genetics and other variables this prime can extend, shorten, or move over a couple years in any direction, but 28-32 gives you the best general chance of seeing a baseball player at their peak. I bring this up because Sabathia turns 31 in July, so in theory if he walks away at the end of the season the Yankees would have signed the best pitcher on the market at the time entering his age 29 season to a three-year deal; buying the best three years of his career for fair market value while not exposing themselves to the risks of a long-term deal and without having to deal with one of the biggest problems in baseball — an aging ace past his best years.
For me, whether or not you believe Sabathia will outperform his age and continue to be a productive pitcher for years to come much as Pettitte did is beside the point; what is undeniable is that CC Sabathia pitching at the level he is right now won’t last through the five years remaining on his deal. I honestly can’t see Sabathia posting a 21-7 record with an ERA of 3.18 in 237.2 IP when he is 34 or 35 years old. I don’t deny he could still be a good pitcher; if he’s lucky he will still have the chance to be a top three starting pitcher in a good rotation through most if not all of the deal, but he won’t be the ace he is today.
Pettitte was a good pitcher for his age the last few seasons but I don’t think anyone would’ve been thrilled if he was making $20-plus million a year doing it; the Yankees went back-and-forth with him every offseason. This of course also assumes that Sabathia will pitch injury free until he is around 36-38 years old; since he hasn’t shown himself to be a pitcher who misses many games during the season you could say that it’s a fairly safe bet to think he will complete most of his contract healthy; however, his body is finally showing signs of wear and tear from the massive weight under which he has to pitch and while this past offseason’s knee surgery itself was a minor procedure, I don’t consider the fact that he had to have knee surgery at 30 a minor factor in deciding what to do next with the big man from a contract standpoint. There is also the consideration that because he hasn’t been injured in the past he is logging a ton of innings on his arm, and at some point you would assume the acumaltive effects off all those innings would catch up to him.
If Sabathia opts out I could be convinced, begrudgingly anyway, to give him a five-year extension for $115 million now, since it would essentially mean only taking one extra year onto his current deal. Even though goes against the Yankees’ rule of no contract extensions before one’s contract runs out, it’s probably worth saving the headache and just getting it over with. However, I see no reason for CC to put himself in a situation that could strain his relationship with the Yankees and the Yankee fans for just one year and $23-26 million dollars.
I understand it’s $25 million, and I can’t say I’m man enough to turn that much money down without being a liar, but at a certain point you would think that the juice has to be worth the squeeze. To be worth the opt out from my perspective, I think CC has to go big and make his first demand seven years, and if no one gives in and you can’t squeeze it out of the Yankees he then comes down to “settle” for 6 years, at this point I’d begin to have a real problem with a new Sabathia contract and would prefer the Yankees to bow out.
I just can’t find a justification for doing the exact same thing the team did with Alex Rodriguez that many regret now. I honestly can’t see any team stepping up to the plate and giving CC more money than he is currently making; maybe the Nationals come in and offer five or six years to try and steal him away, or perhaps the Angels decide to make a run, but in the end I’d expect Sabathia would realize that New York represents the best opportunity for him to win again. Would he really be willing to give that up for one or two extra contract years? Maybe so, but if CC wants to be a Nat, I say let him go to Washington. And while the Angels often seem to get thrown around as a potential suitors, who was their last big-money spend in free agency?
Replacing CC would be hard but not impossible, and at a certain point the Yankees as an organization have to say no, enough is enough and we aren’t doing this anymore. If you sign contracts you honor them or we’re done. It’s not personal, we don’t hate you, we appreciate everything you have done but you are choosing to look for greener pastures. We can’t keep bidding against ourselves simply because “we’re the Yankees,” does anyone really think Alex had a contract offer close to the one he signed on the table? No one believes the team couldn’t have talked him down?
That was the old regime and the new one needs to seperate itself from that. Cashman needs to say it and mean it this time: “If you opt out, we’re done.” I suppose if that’s too harsh and the team wants to quietly negotiate a one-year contract extension, go ahead — I’m not crazy about it but at least it settles the issue. However, if that isn’t acceptable the team needs to be firm in its stance and not stray because of public opinion.
So what do you think? Should the Yankees re-sign CC Sabathia and what is your limit on how high (money and years) the contract should go?
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