Devil's Advocate: What if the New York Yankees Let CC Sabathia Walk?

By Craig Williams

You have surely heard by now that the New York Yankees could be faced with a decision in the coming weeks regarding their ace, CC Sabathia.  As allowed in his contract, CC Sabathia may exercise his opt out clause.  CC Sabathia has never indicated that he has a desire to leave New York, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t try to get more money and years from the New York Yankees.  Depending on who you talk to, the New York Yankees have an easy decision here: just give him the money.  That is not a unanimous line of thought though and some people believe that the New York Yankees have some hard thinking to do.  For the record I’m toeing the line: I want CC Sabathia brought back, but I’m not sure the decision is an easy one.  Let’s play devil’s advocate.  Could there be significant benefits to letting CC Sabathia receive a six year/$125+ million deal elsewhere?

I’m going to look at the benefits of bringing Sabathia back first.  Sabathia is a bonafide ace.  Period.  The Yankees can slot Sabathia into the No. 1 slot of their rotation and set 200+ IP in stone.  These are high quality innings too, not your “I’m getting knocked around, but I’m still going to lug through six or seven frames because I’m a workhorse” innings.  For those of you that like traditional stats, Sabathia has delivered 19, 21 and 19 wins in his three seasons with the Yankees with ERAs of 3.37, 3.18 and 3.00, respectively.  For those that scoff at traditional statistics, over the same span Sabathia has delivered 6.4, 5.2 and 7.1 WAR with xFIPs of 3.77, 3.63 and 3.02.  Any way you slice it, Sabathia is a quality starting pitcher (to put it mildly) and an ace that the Yankees can lean on into the future.

Even if we look into the future with a bit of negative light, bringing Sabathia back seems like the right decision.  Let’s say that he has two more years of ace-level pitching and then has to spend the remaining portion of his contract as a No. 2-3 type with a 3.75-4.25 ERA.  He’ll definitely be overpaid, but if he’s giving you 200+ innings, isn’t that a decline that we can live with?  Nobody knows if his decline will be that graceful, but he hasn’t shown any signs of completely falling flat on his face.  Not up to this point at least.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m hoping to see the New York Yankees bring Sabathia back to the Bronx, but I can’t get mad at you if you disagree.  There are some concerns that could tempt the Yankees – or at least some fans – to walk away from another massive contract.  First and foremost you always look at the years and the money.  What would we be talking about with Sabathia?  Five? Six? Seven years?!  Whatever the years are, I think we can agree that the money is going to be more than $125 million.  The money isn’t the most pressing issue for the Yankees, but it can still negatively impact the way even the richest team in the game operates.  Paying a boatload of money to a starting pitcher that consistently delivers for you is fine, but that brings up another concern.  How much longer will Sabathia be at or very close to the top of his game?  Sabathia will start 2012 as a 31 year old and should have a few more seasons of top shelf production left to offer, but the tail end of the contract could get dicey.  Sabathia is a big guy…scratch that – he’s overweight.  Does that mean that his eventual decline will come sooner than if he was a steady 260-270 instead of 290 lbs?  I would guess yes.  In fairness, I’m no doctor or physical trainer and I don’t know anything else about CC’s body or his workout routine.  It’s just a legitimate concern that any Yankee could easily have.  There’s a philosophy when it comes to re-signing your own players – it’s better to let someone go one year too early than one year too late.  Maybe this applies to Sabathia.

Without Sabathia on the books, the Yankees could choose to spend money on some combination of Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish.  Maybe such a scenario does not outweigh the benefit of having Sabathia in Yankee pinstripes, but there would be options and the Yankees would have flexibility.

Bringing back CC Sabathia is the safe move for the New York Yankees.  I don’t know if its the best move in the long-run, but the Yankees have a short window before some key pieces go from “old” to “old as dirt”.  CC can help the Yankees deliver on another World Series title during that window.  There may be some doubts among fans about whether or not to bring Sabathia back on another large deal.  That’s understandable.  There is zero doubt this though: the Yankees and the fans do not want to have to face off against the big fella as a member of the Texas Rangers or Boston Red Sox.


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