With the final out of the 2011 World Series now recorded, baseball’s hot stove season is underway. The first order of business for the Yanks is to address CC’s contract situation. The deadline for exercising an opt out is fast approaching and it is widely expected that Sabathia will use it unless he and the Yanks work out a deal.
First, the good news. The Yanks and CC’s agent are talking, and while the Yanks are sending out signals they’re not overly optimistic about striking a deal the two sides are at least engaged. The scariest scenario of CC being lured back to southern California appears to be unfounded. Angels owner Arte Moreno has stated he will be giving their newly minted GM Jerry DiPoto only about 10-20 mil to spend this offseason, eliminating them from bidding on any big ticket items. The Giants also have little to spend, and may actually need to clear space just to fill out their roster needs. I’m sure our readers are informed enough that I don’t need to get into what’s going on with the Dodgers, or explain why the A’s won’t be involved.
But while SoCal may appear to be out of the picture, don’t fall for false sense of inevitability either. We had that sense last year with Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte, and we all know what happened next. It actually happened twice with Andy, the Yanks were exceedingly confident he would return after the 2003 season only to find he struck a handshake deal with then-Astros owner Drayton McLayne. There are rumors flying that Detroit and Toronto plan on making huge offers to CC if he hits the open market. Yankee fans and the team have to prepare themselves for the possibility that CC doesn’t return. There’s also a line of reasoning that at some point the Yanks should walk away. If we’re talking about 6-7 years for an overweight 31 year old pitcher then the back end of the deal is likely to be ugly. As we all know long term deals for starters rarely work out well, with Mike Mussina as a notable exception that proves the rule of pitchers like Zito, Zambrano, Santana, Brown and Hampton.
What if CC bolts? Could the Yanks still be a championship caliber team if they draw a line in the negotiations and let him walk? A 1-1 replacement for someone with his abilities isn’t likely. CC’s been among the top 4 pitchers in the sport for the past 3 years since signing his deal with the Yanks. The ones who’ve been better than him (Halladay, Verlander, Lee) all aren’t going anywhere. You won’t be able to replace his production with one player, so you’ll have to look deeper for areas to upgrade.
If Cashman gets creative, I think they clearly can be at least as good if not better. We tend to forget the premium that the Yanks pay for those last few wins over the pitchers who are merely good yet not great. We also forget the Yanks do have a budget, so unless they plan on expanding payroll to an unseen level you have to make compromises elsewhere in the rotation to afford the high priced Sabathia. The 23-25 mil CC will cost the Yanks in 2012 could be utilized in a variety of scenarios that could make the rotation better overall, albeit a bit weaker at the top.
For example, let’s say they sign CJ Wilson 16 mil and Oswalt for 9 mil, and then send Phil Hughes to the bullpen for 2012. The Sabathia-Hughes tandem combined for 7.8 WAR in 2011 (Fangraphs) while the Wilson-Oswalt duo totaled 8.4 WAR. Don’t like that one? OK, let’s try this. Sign CJ, eat half of AJ Burnett’s salary and trade him for the proverbial bag of balls. Now swing a deal for a pitcher to take AJs spot such as John Danks or Gio Gonzalez, both of whom are lefties. The Sabathia-Burnett tandem was worth 8.6 WAR last year, as compared with 9.2 WAR for Wilson-Danks or 9.4 WAR for Wilson-Gonzalez. With Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson due to return in 2012, its very likely Beane makes one of his starters available.
Obviously, these are just a few possibilities and the are many other scenarios we can dream up that fall under the same premise. The optimum outcome would be to keep CC plus upgrade the rotation elsewhere, though it apears that would require a new level of payroll. My point is that Yankee fans shouldn’t panic if CC walks, and there should be a walk away point if the bidding gets out of hand. Texas showed this year you don’t need an ace to make the World Series. Philly showed this year that three aces guarantees you nothing. St Louis lost their ace in Adam Wainwright and won it all. Baseball is a funny game, so don’t worry too much if the Yanks aren’t the best team on paper in 2012. The best AL team on paper in 2011 was the Red Sox.
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