CC Sabathia and the opt-out that wasn’t

Teixeira, Cano, and Gardner among AL Gold Glove nominees
What Went Right (and Wrong): Nunez, Cervelli, and Logan

In business when negotiating a salary, having leverage is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Leverage allows the person in demand to set the pace. The price, the years, the responsibilities — everything can be dictated by the side with leverage to the side without. For the Yankees and their fans who didn’t want to see the Big Man depart from the Bronx after three stellar years, the lesson in leverage was quick and expensive.

CC Sabathia had leverage, and everyone knew it. To entice him to come to New York in the winter of 2008, the Yankees gave him an opt-out clause for peace of mind. If he hated it in the Big Apple, if his family hated it, if other teams came a-knockin’, CC could have departed the Bronx for less intense pastures. The Yankees, on the other hand, had no leverage. Their current crop of home-grown pitchers haven’t matured into the starters we had hoped, and their next class is a year or two away. Fronted by C.J. Wilson and perhaps the tantalizing enigma of Yu Darvish, the free agent pitching market is thin this year, and Sabathia had to return.

And so without exercising the opt-out or filing for free agency, Sabathia, who always said he wanted to stay in New York and never planned on opting out, did just that. He now has five guaranteed years and $122 million left on his contract with an option for a sixth year, which vests as long as he isn’t injured, for another $20 million. As a businessman, he did what anyone in his shoes would have done: He took his leverage and turned it into better job security and more money. That’s the way to do it.

Following the evening announcement of a contract extension, both Sabathia and Yanks GM Brian Cashman said all the right things. “CC is the ace of our pitching staff, a leader in our clubhouse and a driving force for the Yankees in our community,” Cashman, who will soon sign his own contract extension, said. “He is exactly the type player and person that Yankees fans and this organization can be proud of. We are excited that he will be wearing the pinstripes for many years to come.”

The left-hander too was effusive with his praise. “My son loves it here. All my kids love it here. My wife loves it here, obviously, and I do, too. I love pitching for the Yankee fans and everything, so it was the easy choice,” Sabathia said. “I just want to end my career here. I want to make sure I end my career as a Yankee and, hopefully, I’ve done that.”

As this drama unfolded following the Cardinals’ World Series win on Friday, I found myself pondering my reaction to it all. Had CC opted out to explore the market as Jon Heyman over the weekend said he would, I would have been unsurprised but disappointed. After all, CC has long expressed his love of New York and his desire to stay here. When the announcement came down today, I was elated. We don’t have to worry about life without the Big Man, and we’ll continue to watch him pitch every five days from now until the effective end of A-Rod‘s contract. It couldn’t have worked out better.

Finally, then, there is the matter of the contract itself. Effectively, CC never left. He didn’t opt out and didn’t take the PR hit from doing so. In fact, the Yanks’ press release never even says the phrase “opt-out.” CC’s Yankee tenure will take place over the course of two contracts. Yet, I still view his tenure as two deals. During the first, he pitched for three years and $69 million, won 59 games, had a 3.18 ERA and struck out eight per nine innings pitched. It’s one of the better free agent contracts in recent Yankee history.

The next deal will cover Sabathia’s ages 31-36 seasons, and as high-priced contract extensions go, that’s not a bad deal. We’ll see Sabathia continue with his peak-age pitching and perhaps he will decline. But as long as he stays healthy — and he has yet again vowed to lose some weight — the Yankees should be fine. The number of elite pitchers who excel throughout their 30s should make us accepting of the deal. You have your Curt Schillings and Randy Johnsons, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. A contract covering Andy Pettitte‘s age 31-36 seasons would have seen him go 87-57 with a 3.83 ERA in 1147.1 innings. By no means is this a comprehensive study of Sabathia’s peers, but the years and the dollars aren’t nearly as insane as they could have been.

So all’s well that ends well for the Yankees. We’ve wrapped up just three days of the Hot Stove League, and the Yankees already have knocked off the number one item on their agenda. Maybe they’ll dip their toes in again to find another pitcher or some bullpen help. Perhaps a trade is in order. For now, though, we’ll face the long, cold wait until Opening Day comfortable in the knowledge that the Yanks landed their guy before October even ended.

Teixeira, Cano, and Gardner among AL Gold Glove nominees
What Went Right (and Wrong): Nunez, Cervelli, and Logan
  • mbonzo

    CC is a better man than I. Baseball players make a lot of money, but guys like CC earn it.

    As for the next step in the offseason, I mentioned this in the open thread, the Nipoon-Ham Fighters were eliminated last night. Theres a good chance we find out if Darvish will be posted within the next week.

    • Jimmy McNulty

      Time for the Yankees to outbid everyone for him!

    • BK2ATL

      So we won’t be seeing Yu-Tang pitching anymore this season?

      I read somewhere about their season extending late into November. I have no clue about that.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    5/122 that’s not all that bad at all…slight raise, and he’s still a Yankee.

    • Foghorn Leghorn

      yeah..his wife may have to pick up a side job to make ends meet!

  • Benj

    THANK GOD, he will lose that weight!! He also kept his word and didn’t opt out like he said earlier this year that he wouldn’t.

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Before I get into this comment, I feel like I need to preface this by pointing out that CC’s one of my all-time favorite Yankees, that I haven’t once had a conversation in the last few weeks about whether CC would opt-out, or whether he should, or whether the world would end if he did, and that I’m very happy that the big man’s back in the fold. With that said, I have to wonder, isn’t saying something like:

      “He also kept his word and didn’t opt out like he said earlier this year that he wouldn’t.”

      … just a little pedantic? He used the opt-out to get a new contract, that new contract just happened to be settled upon before he had to actually exercise the opt-out. In order for him to have not used the opt-out he would have had to have continued under the original contract, without using the threat of the opt-out (which I don’t think many people think was a bluff) to negotiate a new deal.

      I’m psyched he’s back, and I get that people get annoyed with each other when these kinds of conversations get out of hand during the offseason (the ‘CC’s a liar and they should let him walk!’ stuff, etc.), but let’s not be dishonest about what happened here. The man used the opt-out (as was his right), he just happened to get what he wanted before he actually had to go through with becoming a free agent.

      (Also, Benj, I don’t mean to pick on your comment in particular, I just feel like last night and this morning I’ve seen a lot of people expressing that sentiment, so I’m reacting more to the group of people expressing it than to you individually.)

      • Benjamin Kabak

        It is a little pedantic, but that’s OK. He didn’t trigger the opt-out; he simply used it, as I wrote, as leverage to get more years and more money. It also allows him to save face in light of his popularity because he never left, he never filed for free agency and there was no dramatic negotiation. Compare with A-Rod circa 2007.

        • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          Oh I get all that, I’m reacting to the people who are pulling the ‘CC was telling the truth all along, he said he wouldn’t opt-out and he didn’t’ thing. He would have opted-out, he was about to, if he didn’t get the renegotiated deal that he wanted.

          Whatever, it’s not a big deal, I just think that point is either mistaken or dishonest. I mean, he intended to opt-out, and he used the very-real threat that he would opt-out to get a new contract. I don’t care if he said he wouldn’t opt-out just to get the media off his back for a few months or whatever, but let’s not act like this is some sort of grand vindication or anything, is all I’m saying.

        • raisin

          I don’t get pedantic at all, disingenuous maybe, but no pendanticism…

  • Darren

    I wonder of Torre asked them to wait until after the WS, or they did it on their own. Lessons learned in pat from ARod? Either way, I’m sure the Yanks and CC were talking all weekend and knew the terms before today, right?

  • mbonzo

    Just gotta mention it… Jon Heyman nails it again!

    • Mike HC

      Don’t get it twisted. That was a not so subtle dig at Heyman by Kabak, (“Had CC opted out to explore the market as Jon Heyman over the weekend said he would”), in their on going little battle. Funny stuff.

      • mbonzo

        The guy has a problem with everyone calling out his bs. Even me with like 10 tweets in total. I understand defending yourself, but defending yourself when you’re clearly wrong and denying whats out there and deleting things he said… he’s the definition of super-ego.

        • Mike HC

          Oh yea, I definitely think he deserves it from just the way I saw him handle himself that first time he flipped out on Ben. It was hard to believe that he was a professional journalist at that moment.

          • gc

            For those of us not in the know, can you elaborate on this”feud?” When did he flip out on Ben?? I never liked Heyman, and like him even less when he and his buddy Francesa do their weekly radio stuff. Two peas in a pod, those two.

            • Mike HC

              From what I know, Ben basically called him out one too many times either on RAB or Twitter about his sources being dubious and called his journalistic integrity into question, and then Heyman went nuts on Twitter, calling Ben names, mocking Ben as a law school student, and other immature insults. And not one or two tweets. It was a barrage.

              • gc

                Wow. Classy.

    • Jimmy McNulty

      Jon Heyman couldn’t find his ass with two hands and a map. Fuck that guy, he’s a mouth piece for Boras. I’ve actually met a “source” of his and he is about the least scrupulous journalist in sports.

      • mbonzo

        Was his source a roulette wheel with free agent’s faces cut out on the pockets?

  • Rich in NJ

    A win-win for both CC and the Yankees.

  • Mike HC

    Smart move by CC. Plus he gets more money and years anyway.

    The guy constantly talked about how he wasn’t leaving and how he loved NY. That would have all went right out the window if he started flirting with multiple other teams shopping the Yanks offer around.

    Happy to see it was clean and easy. Now on to the rest of the starting rotation.



    • Jesse


  • Wil Nieves Number 1 Fan

    We could have gotten the same production from Sidney Ponson for less money. What a waste.

  • Mike

    nice to see CC done. now to time to move onto YU Tang Darvish

    YU TANG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Gonzo

      This is one thing I can get behind. Yu Tang ain’t nothing to f*ck with. Yu Tang Forever. They practically write themselves.

      • Mike


        YU TANG AINT NOTHING TO F–k With !! hahaha

  • Jake H

    I thought it was a HUGE win for the Yankees. Doesn’t add any money to the front of the contract and CC got the 2 extra years he wanted.

    • Mike

      Yea, huge win. Except there’s a very low likely hood he’s worth 25 million at the final years of that contract. I guess that’s what happens when the team and player knows your desperate for pitching.

  • David, Jr.

    It positions CC toward becoming a Jeterian iconic Yankee. Two or three more titles and 300 wins would nicely do the job.

  • Yank The Frank

    After his first year, CC said that he wouldn’t be opting out. He is a man of his word.

    • Mike

      Yup he only held us hostage for an extra 30 mill. A bastion of integrity that CC.

      • Tim

        How do you figure that? He never opted out, never said he was going to opt out, and never confronted the Yankees about a contract extension. Basically, if you were sitting in your office and your boss walked in and said to you, “We really think highly of you, and so here’s a $30,000 raise,” you’re going to tell me you wouldn’t take that raise? Of course you would. Everyone would.

        I shouldn’t assume you would ever be sitting in an office, however. You are probably one of those jackwagons sitting on the curb outside Wall Street.

      • Benjamin Kabak

        It’s not like he got the extra $30 million for nothing. The Yanks receive another year of his pitching as well. It’s a contract extension.

  • JobaWockeeZ

    Only 5 guaranteed years. Epic. I’m glad Cash didn’t give him the blank check.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    Great move, CC…finally one of these pro athletes doesn’t hold a team hostage.

    • Mike

      Yea. He only got us to cough up an extra 30 mill to keep him from opting out. That’s like getting him to opt out for free right. Right? Kinda?

      • Foghorn Leghorn

        right…i don’t know how he’s going to live on this salary. Captain Crunch is expensive!

        • Alibaba

          Food stamps?

  • Rainbow Connection

    “Their current crop of home-grown pitchers haven’t matured into the starters we had hoped”

    Yeah, that Nova guy really sucks.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      So you’re absolutely satisfied that Joba and Phil have fulfilled their potential as top-of-the-rotation starters?

    • Ana

      “Their current crop of home-grown pitchers haven’t matured into the starters we had hoped” =/= “The Yankees have no good home grown pitchers”

    • Mike

      Yea, we plus we got those studs Hughes and Joba to compliment him….o wait..

  • IB6 UB9

    Yu Tang might work.

    Boston – protect ya neck!

    • Mike

      hahahaha !!!!

  • Dave B

    Great re-cap Benjamin. I thought he would opt out, but don’t really care how much they pay as long as they keep him in the fold.

    I heard Buster Olney last night say they “may” go after Yu but their “big work is done” considering CC and Cashman, and doesn’t think they’ll go after Wilson at all. I disagree…I think they are going to go HARD after Wilson. Considering they have CC and Nova and nothing but questions, CJ is the best guy out there and I would doubt they want to roll the dice on guys like Colon, Garcia and Hughes and hope for the best like 2011. Just my opinion, but I’m sure the Rangers have pissed them off enough over the past couple seasons to push the Yankees to at least drive up the price on CJ.

  • Greg cj

    As far as the first 3 years of a deal and age 31-36 seasons, check this guy out:

    $33 mil/3 years: 52 wins, 3.52 ERA, 8.1 K/9

    Ages 31-36: 88-61 ( includes a 11-15 season despite being 3rd in AL in ERA)
    32-37: 92-53
    33-38: 86-52
    34-39: 88-51

  • Alibaba

    He meant it what he said about not opting out. He used the specter of the opt-out really great, though.

  • toad


    “I still view his tenure as two deals. During the first, he pitched for three years and $69 million, won 59 games, had a 3.18 ERA and struck out eight per nine innings pitched. It’s one of the better free agent contracts in recent Yankee history.”

    Quibbling a little, this really is not the right way to look at it. The opt-out clause is worth a lot, so the cost of the first three years has to include that value. In effect, an opt-out clause is no different than a player option. So CC had a three-year contract with a four-year player option at $23 million/yr. We don’t know exactly what the value of that option was, but it was substantial. He got a lot more than $69 million for the first three years.

    Think of it this way. Suppose CC had been injured, or had performed poorly for other reasons. Then he would not have opted out, and would have stuck with New York, in effect exercising his four-year option. Disregarding formalities, he didn’t do that, and became a free agent, who signed with the Yankees. Yes, technically speaking it was different, but as a matter of logic, that’s what happened.

  • Eric

    I’m really enjoying this new writer, can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      I laughed.