In the blink of an eye last night, the Yankees became the clear-cut front runners for C.C. Sabathia.
This dance began over the weekend when few were paying attention. The Milwaukee Brewers, it seemed, had emerged as the clear-cut front runners in the C.C. Sabathia Sweepstakes, and last night, just minutes before the start of a thrilling Yankees-Red Sox game and three and a half weeks prior to the trading deadline, the Brewers and Indians consummated what will probably be this July’s biggest deal. The Brewers sent Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson and a PTBNL that will probably be Taylor Green, their MiLB 2007 player of the year, to the Indians for three months of C.C. Sabathia.
For the Brewers, the NL’s leading Wild Card team, this move cements their status as a legitimate playoff contender for practically the first time since they won the AL East in 1982. For the Indians, this move signals that the team is in sell mode, and while they may not have done this well this time, they pulled in a pretty decent haul in exchange for a pitcher sure to hit free agency in a few months.
The Yankees, however, are once again on the outside of a blockbuster trade involving a big-time pitcher. Unlike during the Santana sweepstakes, the Yankees weren’t blocked by the Twins’ desires to ship Santana out of the AL. Rather, they opted not to make a potential move. As Ken Rosenthal reported, “the Yankees also were ‘very heavily involved’ in the Sabathia discussions, one source said, but declined to commit the necessary prospects at a time when their 2008 chances are uncertain.”
As Yankee fans are very divided over the direction of the team, certain factions will have a field day with this tidbit. Once again, when faced with giving up some prospects for a quote-unquote proven ace at the time when the Yanks’ pitching is looking rather frail, Brian Cashman and the Yankee braintrust got gun-shy and stood pat. But of course it isn’t as simple as that.
Right now, the Yankees are in the unenviable position of not knowing what’s going on with their team. They’ve dealt with numerous injuries — 60 percent of their starting rotation, most of their starting lineup — and they’re on the cusp of contention, too far out of first place and just close enough to the Wild Card leader to be in it. They don’t know if they should buy or sell; they don’t know what they really need. Some people think they need a bat and can fill in the pitching from the organization; others thing their offense is fine, and they could use a pitcher.
But for the Yankees, they weren’t in a position to make this move yet, and they didn’t have to. They have Ian Kennedy and Dan McCutchen making their respective ways through the organization. They have Phil Hughes and — dare I say? — Carl Pavano rehabbing. By opting not to acquire Sabathia — and we really don’t know how close or far they were in doing so (and it would have cost at least Hughes and more) — they positioned themselves as the leaders in the eventual C.C. Sabathia sweepstakes bound to occupy the back pages after the Fall Classic ends.
I can unequivocally say that Sabathia will not re-sign with the Brewers before testing the free agency waters. Had he wanted to sign without hitting the market, he would have stayed with Cleveland, a town and an organization he has known and loved for over a decade. Now, he will be a free agent, and if the Yankees want him and he wants the Yankees, it will get done. They have millions of dollars coming off the books and millions more coming their way from a new stadium. And the best part of all is that they won’t have to pay twice for the big lefty.