When the regular season begins next week, CC Sabathia will not be with the Yankees. Actually, no, let me rephrase that. Sabathia will not be an active player when the regular season begins next week. I’d bet on him being introduced alongside his teammates at Yankee Stadium during his final Opening Day next week. Can’t see Sabathia missing that.
After Opening Day, Sabathia figures to head back to Tampa to continue what is essentially his Spring Training. He got a late start on things because his December heart surgery delayed his offseason throwing, so he reported to camp behind other pitchers. Sabathia threw his second simulated game this past weekend and is expected to join the Yankees sometime in mid-April.
Because he won’t be ready until a few weeks into the season, the Yankees will stash Sabathia on the injured list for the time being. He also has to serve a five-game suspension stemming from the “That’s for you, bitch” incident last year. It was announced at the time that Sabathia would appeal the suspension, but there has been no follow-up. Very weird. Until we hear otherwise, I assume it’s still a five-game ban.
Last week Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch the Yankees are leaning toward carrying Sabathia on the Opening Day active roster to get the suspension out of the way. He can’t serve the suspension while on the injured list (that’s for performance-enhancing drug suspensions only) and the Yankees have to play with a 24-man roster during the suspension. They’re leaning suspension then injured list over injured list then suspension.
Given the early season schedule, it makes the most sense to get the suspension out of the way early. The Yankees could use the suspension to effectively buy an extra roster spot. Specifically, they could send Domingo German to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training, then call him up to start the sixth game of the regular season. This would be the rotation schedule:
- March 28th vs. Orioles: Masahiro Tanaka
- March 29th: OFF
- March 30th vs. Orioles: James Paxton
- March 31st vs. Orioles: J.A. Happ
- April 1st vs. Tigers: Luis Cessa (presumably)
- April 2nd vs. Tigers: Tanaka on normal rest
- April 3rd vs. Tigers: Domingo German (Sabathia’s suspension ends)
German has a fourth option and can be sent down, and because Sabathia will be placed on the injured list following the suspension, it allows the Yankees to recall German before he spends the requisite ten days in the minors. German doesn’t even have to physically go to Scranton. He can be part of the baseline introductions on Opening Day and hang with the team until being activated.
Sending German down allows the Yankees to carry four starters, eight relievers, and three bench players while Sabathia serves his suspension. The other option is carrying German on the roster and having five starters, and either seven relievers and three bench players, or eight relievers and two bench players. Neither of those is ideal. The Yankees would rather have the full complement of relievers and bench players.
The other option is carrying German as the eighth reliever. Keep him in the bullpen those first five games as a long man, and, if he’s not needed, start him in the sixth game and call up another reliever to fill Sabathia’s roster spot after the suspension is over. And, if German is needed in long relief, the Yankees could call up someone else to make that start in the sixth game (Jonathan Loaisiga?) before German joins the rotation the next time around.
Carrying German as the eighth reliever is a viable option — I think it’s what the Yankees will most likely do, especially with Dellin Betances now hurt — but I don’t love it. Those “he’s going to start this day if we don’t need him in long relief first” situations always seem to result in the Yankees trying to stay away from the guy so he can start. I’d rather send German down for the five games and carry eight relievers Aaron Boone can use without worrying what it does to his rotation, you know?
Losing a roster spot for five games during Sabathia’s suspension isn’t a huge deal. He’s a starting pitcher, so it’s not like he plays between starts anyway, plus there’s an off-day squeezed into the five-game span. Getting the suspension out of the way early allows the Yankees to manipulate their roster and use Sabathia’s injured list assignment to bring back a recently optioned player, in this case German, who could then start the sixth game of the year and allow the Yankees to carry a full bullpen and bench during the suspension. They wouldn’t be shorthanded despite a 24-man roster.
The Yankees did not have a starter throw 100 pitches until their 20th game last year and that was by design. They eased everyone into the season and I assume the same will be true this year, which means they’re going to want a full bullpen in the early going. Sabathia’s suspension and injured list stint allows them to carry eight relievers and three bench players, and delay calling up their fifth starter until the sixth game. It’s the best of a not great situation.