Come on, did you really think CC Sabathia wanted to leave the Yankees? Did you really believe the opt-clause in his contract would be used for anything except to scare the Steinbrenners (success) and squeeze a few more dollars out of the family’s coffers (huge success)?
For all the hyperventilating over Sabathia’s exodus, and the thought of the left-hander being courted by the Red Sox (who would’ve loved to repay the Yankees for driving up the price on Carl Crawford last winter), the whole exercise was nothing more than a big tease, albeit an expensive one.
Turns out the Yankees couldn’t let Sabathia walk, no matter what the cost, nor could the ace bring himself to cut the tie to the only team that brought him a world championship.
Give Sabathia credit: He had every right to extend this charade and force the Yankees to write an even bigger check than they ultimately did. In the end, it was a classic compromise — both sides gave a little to maintain the status quo.
OK, so maybe it more than just a little. Sabathia’s guaranteed money went from $92 million that remained on the last four years on his deal to $122 million over five. That’s a $30 million windfall that Sabathia earned by a) being lucky enough to have the opt-out included in his contract and b) knowing the Yankees had nowhere to turn for a replacement.
If nothing else, the World Series underscored just how valuable an ace really is. There’s a difference between a pitcher who simply takes the ball in the season’s final game and a bona fide Game 7 weapon. The Cardinals had it in Chris Carpenter. The Rangers didn’t even come close in Matt Harrison. C.J. Wilson, who used to be Texas’ idea of a stopper, was so underwhelming throughout the postseason, he nuked whatever chance he had of replacing Sabathia as an ace.
That’s not to say the Yankees will ignore Wilson as a free agent this winter, but they’ll price him as a No. 3 starter. The gulf that separates Wilson from Sabathia was wider than anyone imagined.
Aside from the 59 games Sabathia has won since coming to New York in 2009, he’s become one of the franchise’s guardians. Sabathia never complained, even when Joe Girardi upset his synchronicity in September while going to a six-man rotation. Teammates respect him in a way they never did Randy Johnson and even Mike Mussina.
There’s just something about Sabathia’s can-do demeanor that, while unquantifiable, compels GMs to scour the ends of the earth to find.
Still, it’d be a stretch to say the Yankees don’t have concerns about Sabathia’s health and long-term durability. The fact that his 2017 option (for $25 million) will vest only in the absence of a serious injury means the team’s brain trust is keenly aware of Sabathia’s workload in the last three seasons, the drop-off in performance in the second half of 2011 and, yes, his weight.
Sabathia posted a 4.06 ERA over the last two months of the regular season, and his body of work in the last two Octobers has been disappointing — 16 earned runs, 32 hits and 15 walks in 24-2/3 innings. That’s a 5.84 ERA.
While the left-hander insists his growing waistline didn’t affect his performance, he admitted he got a “a little lax” with his diet. Sabathia promises to come to camp in better shape, which is the least he can do in exchange for the $24.4 million annual average salary he now commands — the highest for a pitcher in the sport’s history.
Sabathia might’ve actually done better on the open market, but the question wasn’t how much more he could’ve stuffed into his bank account, but whether he really wanted to pitch in, say, Detroit or Texas or even Boston. Sabathia has put down permanent roots in northern New Jersey and told friends throughout the summer he had no real intention of uprooting his family.
Now the Yankees can go about the business of remodeling the roster for 2012, although the finished product isn’t going to look much different than the one that led the American League with 97 wins. Remember, this is the post-Boss era — October setbacks are mourned, but not used as the catalyst for a purge.
Alex Rodriguez (.180 in his last two postseasons), Mark Teixeira (.170 as a Yankee in October) and Nick Swisher (.169 career playoff average) will all be back.
So will Girardi, despite failing to win the pennant for the second year in a row. Even GM Brian Cashman’s agreeing to a new contract on Tuesday was a no-brainer. It’ll be a quiet rest of the winter.
As of now, four of the rotation spots appear to be locked — Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes.
Freddy Garcia, a Type-B free agent, will probably be offered arbitration and has a chance to win the No. 5 spot, although Girardi is looking for a second left-hander. The door is open to Manny Banuelos, a southpaw, as well as right-hander Dellin Betances, both of whom are almost ready for prime time.
That’ll be the area of concentration for Cashman during free agency — a tweak here or there to the rotation. The GM insists he has no appetite to engage in a bidding war for Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.
This is based on several assumptions the Yankees consider infallible. The first is that, given the dimensions of their ballpark, and the bunching of so many left-handed hitters, the lineup will continue to score 800-900 runs a year for the foreseeable future.
The second is that A-Rod will have a bounce-back season after a winter of rest. The third is the bullpen’s sustained dominance between Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano.
The last, of course, is Sabathia’s ability to take the ball with the season on the line. The Yankees are willing to forget all those troubling reminders that the left-hander is just human and has been leaned on so heavily, maybe too heavily. Those issues have all been tabled — for now.