While he likely won’t do it during the final game of the World Series, CC Sabathia is sure to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. By now everyone knows the song and dance. The Yankees gave Sabathia the opt-out and so cannot take umbrage with his exercising it. They’ll clearly make an attempt to re-sign him, and the prevailing opinion is that they’ll succeed. All could be back to normal within a week or so of the World Series.
Still, no one guarantees Sabathia’s return. On the open market he might find a mind-blowing offer from a team on the brink of contention, such as the Nationals. If he does depart, it would leave the Yankees in a short-term bind at the very least. The pitching staff fared well this year, better than anyone expected, but Sabathia was the undisputed ace. Could the Yankees expect similar results next year, even with a lesser pitcher heading the rotation?
The scenario is reminiscent of a scene in Moneyball, both the book and the movie, in which Billy Beane and his staff pondered how to replace Jason Giambi. Beane’s solution was to forget about replacing Giambi with a comparable player. For starters, few existed. Even if one did exist, the A’s clearly could not afford him. Their solution: tally up the production of all their departing players and try to find their replacements in the aggregate. That is, find three players whose production equals the average of the three departing players.
The Yankees rotation features many departing players indeed. If Sabathia goes, they’ll be left with just A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes — though Hughes provides no guarantees at this point. They’d have to find two or three pitchers to replace the production of Sabathia, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon, which amounts to 548.1 innings at a 3.46 ERA and 3.51 FIP. That doesn’t exactly represent readily available talent. In fact, only 37 pitchers in all of baseball produced an ERA below 3.46, and only 34 produced a FIP below 3.51. And of those 34, only Sabathia and C.J. Wilson are free agents.
The lack of free agent pitching means the Yankees would have to acquire at least one starter, and perhaps two, via trade. With the scarcity of pitchers who produce at the required aggregate level, the Yankees would have to surrender quite a bit to acquire these arms. At that point they might want to just try their own internal arms, but are guys such as Hector Noesi and Adam Warren capable of producing all those innings at those impressive ERA and FIP levels? While it’s possible, it’s not something that a serious contender can count on. The Yankees simply have to do better.
This brings us all the way back to Sabathia. While the Yankees might have solutions in quantity, they simply cannot reproduce the quality that Sabathia has provided for the past three years. Even if they try to replace their three departing pitchers with internal and external options, it appears unlikely they can match that production in the aggregate. Sabathia is the one elite guy on the market, and the Yanekes have an advantage in pursuing him. Given that their most abundant resource is their capital, they should leverage it in order to bring back the one guy who will make life easier in 2012 and beyond. Otherwise they might find themselves scrambling to find suboptimal solutions to their pitching vacancies.