Tanaka or no Tanaka, Yankees need Sabathia to rebound to contend in 2014

Jeter begins baseball activites in Tampa
Teixeira acknowledges still feeling stiffness in wrist
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

At some point in the next 80 hours or so, the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes will be over. He has until 5pm ET this Friday to sign with an MLB club, and that club might even be the Yankees. They reportedly made a fat nine-figure offer but so did four other clubs. There have been no serious indications about him leaning towards one team either. It’s a total mystery, amazingly.

The Yankees need Tanaka if they want to contend this coming season, but he is still only one pitcher. There are four other rotation spots to consider and one of them belongs to CC Sabathia, who, up until last year, was the sure thing. During his first four years in pinstripes, the club could count on their ace left-hander to take the ball every five days and provide a ton of high-end innings. Even his bad starts were rarely disasters.

That all changed last year. Sabathia was legitimately one of the worst starters in baseball in 2013, ranking 76th out of 81 qualified starters with a 4.78 ERA and 72nd with 0.3 bWAR. His 122 runs and 112 earned runs allowed were both the most in the game. A normal Sabathia season probably would not have been enough to get the Yankees into the postseason, but his performance was a big reason why the team was stuck home in October. It was ugly.

The list of potential reasons for CC’s sucky season is seemingly endless. He lost too much weight. He lost too much off his fastball. He had offseason elbow surgery. All the innings are catching up to him. Those are the most popular theories and I’m sure all four factor in somehow. I definitely think there is something to the idea of the elbow surgery throwing off his usual offseason routine, which Sabathia said he really noticed when his normal arm strength just wasn’t there in mid-April. That doesn’t figure to be an issue in 2014.

“I’ve been working out 100 percent, doing all my lifting and everything. I’ve felt fine,” said Sabathia to Bryan Hoch recently, referring to his season-ending hamstring injury. “I’ve been able to throw the whole winter. Last year, I had the surgery, so I wasn’t able to throw. I lost a bunch of weight all at one time. This year, it’s all about just getting stronger, building my strength back up and keeping my arm loose.”

Of course Sabathia was at his worst at midseason, after his velocity returned. His four-seam fastball averaged 92.3 mph during his disastrous nine-start run following the All-Star break (7.33 ERA and 4.80 FIP in 50.1 innings), velocity that was on par with his strong 2012 season (92.4 mph). There’s a lot more to pitching life than fastball velocity, and this seems like a good spot to mention Sabathia’s continually dropping release point (via Brooks):


That’s scary but also completely normal. Pitchers tend to drop their arms as they age because of all the wear and tear — the shoulder just isn’t strong enough to maintain a high release point after a couple thousand innings. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild mentioned several times last year that Sabathia would lose his release point and his pitches would start to cut (right out over the plate, unfortunately), and the PitchFX data backs that up. I’m not sure anything can be done to reverse this trend at this point. The solution might not involve raising his arm slot, but learning how to pitch with a lower arm slot.

Anyway, Sabathia has had a normal offseason this winter, a normal offseason that will hopefully boost his velocity and maybe help a bunch of other stuff. You can tell he’s been working hard these last few weeks because, well, look:

Holy crap!

That photo is from former teammate Rickie Weeks’ wedding this past weekend. We’ve seen “CC is getting skinnier!” photos for like, three offseasons in a row now, but I think that one is the most startling. Not a bad way, just … wow. Sabathia told Ken Rosenthal he is “actually the same weight as I was last year, just a little more toned and a lot more strong,” so it wasn’t so much losing weight as it was turning bad weight (fat) into good weight (muscle). Still, you can’t look at the photo and tell me he doesn’t look way slimmer. Good for him.

“He’s been going full speed since before Halloween,” said trainer T.J. Lopez to Mike Puma. “This year he’s going to go into Spring Training in the best shape of his life … Having the year he had last year, he’s coming back really with a vengeance and he wants to prove something now, that he can do it.”

That’s a good thing. Everyone should want Sabathia to go out there with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to show last season was a bump in the road and not the start of a harsh decline. The Yankees need that Sabathia because the 2014 rotation will be full of question marks, with or without Tanaka. How will Tanaka or a similar pitcher handle the move into the AL East? Will Hiroki Kuroda shake off his rough finish? Will Ivan Nova find some consistency? What will David Phelps and various back-end arms contribute? It’s unlikely Sabathia can get back to his dominant, Cy Young caliber form from 2007-11, but a healthy and productive above-average starter will go a long way towards improving the Yankees this summer. It’s a necessity if they hope to contend.

Jeter begins baseball activites in Tampa
Teixeira acknowledges still feeling stiffness in wrist
  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

    Don’t blame me that I am a little skeptic of CC rebounding as I believe I have heard the “I am in the best shape of my life” story more than once.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Whether or not he rebounds, I think it’s hard to refute that he’s in the best shape of his (MLB) life.

      As in, it’s literally and obviously true.

      • TWTR

        Well said.

      • Havok9120


      • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

        Yeah he is literally in the best shape of his life, but I just don’t believe in the narative that Best Shape of life = better performance form the prior year/years.

        • Preston

          Yeah, I don’t think being in great shape helps a pitcher that much. Maybe being stronger adds velocity and being fitter helps you go longer in games. But those things are secondary to controlling and locating your pitches. Being a starting pitcher is about being able to repeat your mechanics consistently, having a new body, even a better more fit body, might mess with that. However, If he’s truly at the same weight, maybe last season was the adjustment period and this year he’ll be used to the new weight and return to form. I guess we’ll see.

    • mitch

      I’d like to believe him, but being in great shape is just a small piece of the puzzle. The key is making adjustments to the way he pitches, and figuring out how to make it work with diminished stuff. CC is the ultimate pro and one of the best pitchers of the last decade…i’m confident he’ll figure it out just like Mussina and Andy did

    • Bo Knows

      Look at him!

      I’m pretty sure it’s obvious that he is physically in the best shape of his life. He’s so skinny

  • losealot101

    “holy crap!” is right. here’s a link to cc’s appearance on jimmy fallon: http://www.hulu.com/watch/583825#i1,p28,d1

    he looks like he lost 75 pounds! no way he replaced all that weight with muscle. and even if he did, his body will move and act completely differently. remember when the yankees put david wells on a diet? he was a disaster until they let him eat and drink again. i say let him have his capt’n crunch!!!

    • http://www.draftstreet.com/register.aspx?r=Jedile Jedile

      Man Marky T kinda looks like he could be an actor. Thanks for sharing.

  • cantbeworsethanlastyear

    As a long time fan its kind of exciting tk see the yankees with so many players that could have bounce back years. Tex, Jeter, cc could have just ok years and be a huge improvement over ly. So many question marks but also a chance for optimism. I don’t think they will play like they’re 25 but any improvement may be all this team needs. Definitely low expectations, that can only help

  • Darren

    CC looks sick to me. I really hope he’s not, but that amount of weight loss, combined with the absurd denials of his agent, usually mean something really, really bad.

    • Bo Knows

      Actually it doesn’t, and very rarely does it mean something is bad.
      You’re used to seeing CC at 300+ lbs, we all are; but when someone loses a ton of weight, it can be jarring. I’ve lost a lot before, and still get grief from family members because they think I’m too skinny (despite the fact I’m 175 lbs at 6’0 tall)

      • Darren

        I don’t know what world you live in (I don’t mean that in a snarky way) but in NYC, and/or amongst celebrities, drastic, sudden weight loss is usually a pretty bad thing.

        First of all, congratulations on losing the weight. But when asked, did you DENY that you lost it? Did it take you a reasonable amount of time to lose it? Because it looks like CC lost about 50 pounds in 3 months. And the fact that his trainer is saying that he’s saying he’s staying at the same weight is utterly absurd.

        Again, I really hope there are misquotes, or whatever, and that this is nothing serious, but it looks pretty bad.

        • jjyank

          I don’t think it looks bad at all.

          Keep in mind, we’re looking a pictures of CC in a freaking tuxedo. We’re not judging a swimsuit competition here, we don’t know how muscular he is under that tux.

          Maybe his camp is stretching the truth a little bit on his actual weight, but putting a number on it is pure guesswork on your part.

      • Bo Knows

        and most of those celebrities were young women with severe emotional or drug issues. CC is 33 years old, well past the usual age range for eating disorders, also its entirely possible he is a similar weight, if he’s been doing weight training, its very likely he lost fat, but gained muscle which is denser that fat. That’s how Paul Goldschmidt looks so much smaller now than he did coming in to the MLB.

        We also tend to forget that most of CC’s bulk always seemed to be centered around his midsection and he tends to prefer baggy clothes.

        • Darren

          I wasn’t thinking young girls with eating disorders, I was thinking grown men with other major diseases that I don’t even want to type out. And before I get slammed here, I obviously know NOTHING about CC’s situation – this is just a visceral reaction to seeing that photo.

          • Bo Knows

            You’re giving yourself a heart attack over nothing man, If CC was truly ill he wouldn’t be playing you can also bet that he has the best annual physicals money can by and everything that he’s been doing has been under the supervision of nutritionists, trainers and his doctors.

          • Chip Rodriguez

            Heavy weight training while running a caloric deficit (not that hard, if you’re a pro athlete and your TDEE is going to be well into the 3K range) can get those sorts of losses, if someone’s disciplined.

            Clearly the guy’s been working insanely hard, and I hope he comes back with a vengeance this spring.

  • Farewell Mo

    Good for CC losing all that weight. Carrying all that weight at such an early age would have lead to all kinds of health problems down the road for him and whether or not it affected his pitching is really not important in the grand scheme of things.

    I think he’ll bounce back to closer to a 4 WAR pitcher again since he should still have enough stuff as a lefty to get hitters out.

  • jjyank

    I’m pretty cautiously optimistic regarding CC. He’s in good shape, he’s further removed from the elbow surgery, and he has a normal offseason workout routine. To use an old baseball saying, CC is not a thrower, he’s a pitcher. He knows how to pitch. Regardless of which factor played what role in his down season in 2013, I think he can bounce back.

    Of course, none of the factors I listed above are guarantees, hence the qualification of my optimism with “cautious”. But either way, the title of this post is correct. We need CC to be an above average starter again, with or without Tanaka.

    • Dr. TJ Eckleberg

      I’m with you. CC seems like exactly the kind of guy who would have a terrible year and throw himself into change and improving. I think we’re all armchair sports scientists when we tend to talk about how his weight loss will negatively affect his pitching. At the end of the day, this guy knows his body and I believe that he’s going into this season working like a madman to improve. I think he’s going to be nasty next year.

  • OldYanksFan

    Statistically speaking, it seems near impossible that we won’t get a fair amount more (WAR) from CC, 1B and SS. While we have lost a LOT at 2nd base, it seems we have upgraded every other positions, and some of those upgrades could be pretty radical. Our BP has taken a big hit, but at least that is the easiest to fix, especially midseason.

    I think the AL East will be much tighter this year.
    If we do manage to get Tanaka, I do think, that while we don’t have an awesome team, we will definitely be in the running.

    • mitch

      I think Tanaka would put them closer to the Rays, but still a good bit behind Boston. My hope is that they sign Tanaka, officially wipe out 189, and go on to sign Drew, Jimenez and Balfour to close out the off season. It’s wishful thinking, but I don’t think it’s out of the question.

      • jjyank

        Meh. Boston didn’t get any better this offseason, and they had pretty much everything go right last year. I don’t see the same luck repeating itself.

        • OldYanksFan

          Agreed 100%. At the start of the year, most pundits considered them a .500ish team. Mind you, they are a solid team, but not great.

          • Mike

            Yes. I believe positions will be reversed this year.

        • Dirty Water

          Salty had decent power but struck out too much along with playing sub-par defense. Pierzynski should be able to put up similar numbers.

          Jackie Bradley Jr. had an insanely low babip last year in his limited at-bats. I think he could put up 60-80% of Ellsbury this year offensively (not the steals) at 2.50% of the cost. Generally acknowledged to be a better defensive center fielder already.

          Could lose their starting shortstop? They could still end up signing Drew but there’s some guy named Bogaerts that would play short if Drew signs elsewhere. If Drew signs, Bogaerts will play third like he did in the WS.

          Bogaert’s performance in the WS could be the first signs of a rising star on Boston. Yes I know it’s an insanely small sample size but if you watched the WS you couldn’t help being impressed or scared if you’re a Yankee fan

      • Kosmo

        Boston lost its starting C, CF and stand to lose their starting SS. Not a good sign.

      • Havok9120

        No one else in the division had improved one iota. I’m optimistic (stunning).

    • AndrewYF

      You forgot catcher, and two out of three outfield positions. Plus everyone is discounting the effect that actually having real hitters in the lineup has on the entire lineup in general. No longer are pitchers breezing through entire sections of the lineup, they are instead getting caught up on tougher hitters, making them easier to hit for the other members. Looking at WAR gains in a vacuum is never the whole story.

      • OldYanksFan

        I said: “it seems we have upgraded every other position, and some of those upgrades could be pretty radical.”

    • Farewell Mo

      Their infield is currently projected by ZiPs at 3.5 WAR from 1B, 2B, SS and 3rd base which is one of the worst in the history of the Yankees so they’re gonna have to get a ton out of catcher and the outfield to be a contender.

      They look like a low to mid 80 win team to me right now. If they get Tanaka and he pitches well plus CC bounces back and a few other things go well, I can see them getting to high 80s maybe even 90. They are clearly behind Tampa and Boston in the AL east as well as Detroit, Texas and Oakland in the AL.

      • Havok9120

        Yes, if ZiPs hold true. I think part of his point was that ZiPs is being very bearish in terms of the possibilities there. I don’t blame it, but still.

  • Kosmo

    Fangraphs, Steamer and Oliver have CC at around 12-15 wins with a 3.75ish ERA, 200+ IP and about a 4WAR.
    I´m not much on projections but if CC can go 15-10 with a 3.75 ERA I´d be OK with it, not vintage CC mind you but still above average.

    • AndrewYF

      It would certainly make the rest of his contract look more palatable.

    • Dalek Jeter

      After last season, I’ll sign up for that in a heartbeat.

  • Andrew Brotherton

    If the Yankees can get Tanaka, and get 15+ wins from CC and Kuroda and a reasonable 13 or 14 wins from Tanaka then they can definitely handle the growing pains of Nova into a reliable option and Pineda in that 5th slot. They still need 1 more veteran option in the bullpen and it wouldn’t hurt to get two- if they were able to get Madson or Hanrahan plus Balfour or Storen would give them a very solid bullpen with the potential of a great bullpen if Betances or Jose Ramirez establish themselves.

  • JonS

    “How will Tanaka or a similar pitcher handle the move into the AL East? Will Hiroki Kuroda shake off his rough finish? Will Ivan Nova find some consistency? What will David Phelps and various back-end arms contribute?”

    Tune in next season for another episode of…WILL THE YANKEES CONTEND!!!

    • losealot101

      having kuroda there might be a big plus for tanaka. it’s difficult enough adjusting to a new country without the pressure major league players face on a daily basis. just having someone in the clubhouse who speaks the same language will make the move to the AL east much easier.

  • TWTR

    CC looks freakin’ bionic.

  • Nathan

    My GF showed me that wedding picture this weekend and I had to do a double take. Good for CC for losing the weight! Let’s hope he’s adjusted to his “new” body and that his arm is strong this year and moving forward.

    • OldYanksFan

      While you would think for a professional athlete, losing weight (last year) would mean losing fat. But sometimes, with fast weight loss, some muscle is lost to. CC said he didn’t lose weight this year, just converted some fat to muscle. I believe CC will be much better this year. I also think Joe should keep an eye on his IP, especially early in the year.

      • Nathan

        Completely agree. Cutting that much weight means he lost some muscle mass as well which is why I hope he gets used to his new body.

  • Farewell Mo

    Is that guy with the blond woman Prince Fielder and his wife Chanel?

    I read they were getting divorced after she was found to be cheating with Avisail Garcia which was one reason blamed for Fielder’s down year.

    • Dicka24

      Not sure how true those rumors are i.e. the random club house stories about who is boning who (Tony Parker/Brett Barry comes to mind), but what amazes me about them (if they are true), and I’m talking about all pro sports club houses here, is that these players can literally bone the hottest chics they want, yet they (allegedly) go and bone a teammates lady. Even the most homely looking pro athlete can get a fine PoA when they want it. So why shit where you eat?

      • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

        That’s just it – they figure the shit that starts in house has a much better chance of staying in house than winding up on the front page.

  • Dalek Jeter

    “Everyone should want Sabathia to go out there with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to show last season was a bump in the road and not the start of a harsh decline.”

    Except for those who want nothing more than to come here and tell us that we’re losers and pollyannas and that Cashman failed…aka the same people that nicknamed CC “Feces” last season.

    • jjyank

      And those people suck something awful, so let them be miserable.

    • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

      You are a Pollyanna, but I never said anything remotely similar to the rest. Please don’t confuse us.

      I’m hopeful about CC for 2014, but I won’t be optimistic until we reach the ASB and he’s at least a league average pitcher. Reminder: he was one of the single worst SP in baseball last year.

  • Deuces Wild

    CC looks great he’s going to beast this year just wait.. And at this point I honestly think the Yankees are favorite for Tanaka. I’m excited the rotation is actually going to be a strength this season.

  • Dicka24

    I think CC will be ok this year. I certainly hope so at least.

    Anyone else notice the absolute lack of leaks and info on the Tanaka negotiations? For someone who has to be signed by Friday, and will likely sign as soon as Wednesday, we have nothing in terms of information. I find that kind of amazing. I can’t help but wonder if Tanaka’s camp wants everything private, and thus the teams involved haven’t leaked anything to anyone. If this were a run of the mill FA, we’d hear numbers, years, and assorted other tidbits about what’s going on. True or untrue mind you. All we know at this point, is the same we’ve known for months. That the Cubs really want him, he’s likely to sign in LA or NY, and the money will be in the general vicinity of 6 years and $120 million. All of which we’ve known for over a month now.

    • Deuces Wild

      I like that the Yanks are staying quiet I think they really want him so there keeping the negotiations on the low and getting the deal done. My geuss is 7 for 141 and 20 mil posting fee totaling the CC contract

  • Matt :: Sec110

    “…bad weight (fat)…good weight (muscle). ”

    Thanks for clearing this up.

    • Kevin G.

      All this time I’ve been stockpiling fat and shedding muscle, but boy was I wrong

  • MB923

    Latest rumor says Tanaka is choosing between the Yankees and the Cubs. Keyword – Rumor. And we’ve seen a ton of rumors already. This was tweeted by YES Network.

    • Dalek Jeter

      Maybe this is my pinstripe sunglasses and Cashman Koolaid talking…but if its a choice between the Yankees and the Cubs…is it really a choice? To me there is a right answer and a wrong answer there.

      • MB923

        Well the Cubs as we speak have a brighter future (based on farm). Yankees have a more competitive team for 2014 at least. He said he wants a challenge. Truthfully both cities are a challenge. He wants a Japanese community (neither city is strong in that and correct me if I’m wrong about NY. Maybe total # is high but certainly not %).

        I would be surprised if it was a team other than Yanks, Cubs and Dodgers.

        • AndrewYF

          Yankees have a brighter future simply due to talent in the major league organization. What would you trust more – current talent or projections about future talent that turn out to be wrong 50% of the time?

        • OldYanksFan

          2000 US Census Bureau Statistics:
          Cities with the Highest Japanese Population

          1 Honolulu, Hawaii 86,612
          2 Los Angeles, California 36,992
          3 New York, New York 22,636
          4 Torrance, California 13,991
          5 San Jose, California 11,484
          6 San Francisco, California 11,410
          7 Hilo, Hawaii 10,863
          8 Pearl City, Hawaii 9,621
          9 San Diego, California 9,485
          10 Seattle, Washington 8,979
          11 Waimalu, Hawaii 8,473
          12 Kaneohe, Hawaii 8,259
          13 Mililani Town, Hawaii 7,126
          14 Gardena, California 6,712
          15 Sacramento, California 6,642
          16 Chicago, Illinois 5,467

          So NYC had 4 times the Japanese of Chicago in 2000

          And this:

          In 2010:
          The two metropolitan areas with the highest Japanese populations according to the 2010 Census, were Greater Honolulu Combined Statistical Area (149,700), and the Greater Los Angeles Combined Statistical Area (134,600).[1] About 60% of the Japanese American population live in two states, California (34 percent) and Hawai’i (26 percent).

          • MB923

            I guess advantage LA then

      • Mandy Stankiewicz

        It could be a choice if the money isn’t the same.
        The one rumor that I keep seeing is his self-imposed deadline is tonight/tomorrow so he can get his physical done and sign before friday. I’m refreshing MLBTR like crazy today…

        • MB923

          If you have a Twitter account, you’re better off using Twitter (though I refresh MLBTR quite often too)

          • Mandy Stankiewicz

            Thanks MB923, any NYY/MLB people in particular?

      • Chip Rodriguez

        As we’ve said here earlier – send the man a slice of Chicago style pizza, and a box from DiFara’s.

  • qwerty

    You dont lose that kind of weight in that short of time without something drastic happening. I wonder if he got his stomach stapled.

    • Bo Knows

      Actually you can if you work hard enough

      I once lost 45 lbs over the course of 3 months in High School
      and I recently lost 30 pounds in less time (my mistake in letting the weight slowly come back lol)

      Proper nutrition alone, will cut off a ton of unneeded calories working out helps significantly (obviously)

    • Chip Rodriguez

      A serious weightlifting routine while eating to maintain a 20-30% caloric deficit will do that over a few months. That takes some amazing discipline, and major props to him.