CC Sabathia and the opt-out that wasn’tBy
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.