CC Sabathia and the opt-out that wasn’t

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

Via ESPN, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, and Brett Gardner are among the AL Gold Glove nominees at their respectively positions. Yeah, I didn’t know they had nominees for these things either. Tex is against Adrian Gonzalez and Casey Kotchman at first base, Cano against Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler at second, and Gardner against Alex Gordon and Sam Fuld in left. I wonder if that means they’ll actually give out a Gold Glove for each of the individual outfield spots. That’d be neat.

Anyway, the Gold Glove winners will be announced tomorrow night during the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards Show on ESPN2 at 10pm ET. I sure hope they get leaked before then, I have no interest in watching. The rest of the awards schedule can be found right here.

Yankees agree to extension with CC Sabathia

CC Sabathia stayed true to his word. After three years of professing his love for New York and the Yankees, the big lefty did not trigger the opt-out clause in his contract prior to tonight’s midnight deadline. As he says in the video above (via Zoodig), he and the team have agreed to a new contract extension that will almost assuredly keep him in pinstripes for the remainder of his career.

Now, for the gory details as reported by Buster Olney, Ken Rosenthal, and Joel Sherman. Essentially, it’s a five-year deal worth $122M guaranteed plus a sixth year vesting option worth $25M. That option depends on the health of his left shoulder. If Sabathia a) finishes the 2016 season on the DL with a shoulder injury, b) spends 45 days on the DL with a shoulder injury in 2016, or c) has to make six relief appearances in 2016 due to a shoulder problem, the option will not vest and he will instead receive a $5M buyout. There is no protection against elbow problems, and as far as we know, there are no provisions about his weight. At the end of the day, the Yankees added one year and $30M guaranteed to the four years and $92M still left on his original contract.

The team’s original offer, which we’ve know about for a while, was a five-year package worth $120.5M guaranteed according to Sherman, or half-a-mil more than Cliff Lee got from the Phillies. The Yankees increased their offer today to keep Sabathia from opting out and hitting the open market. The new deal ensures that CC is the highest paid pitcher in the game in terms of average annual value ($24.4M) and total package (the original $161M contract). We don’t know what other teams would have gotten involved in the bidding had he hit free agency, but I think it was in the Yankees’ best interests to avoid that scenario. Sabathia comes out looking like the good guy as well.

With that taken care of, the team can move forward with its offseason business. The rotation still needs help even with Sabathia back on board, but at least now the Yankees know they will have their ace left-hander ready to take the ball on Opening Day. Welcome back CC, I’m glad you never left.

Open Thread: Halloween

Joe's brother dressed up as the Red Sox Collapse for Halloween.

You know what the most underrated, and possibly best part of Halloween is? Going out tomorrow and buying about ten bags of leftover Halloween candy for like, three bucks at Rite Aid. Just can’t beat it, great way to stock up on junk food for the winter.

Anywho, here is your open thread for tonight. The Monday Night Football game is the Chargers at the Chiefs (8:30pm ET on ESPN), and the Rangers are the only local hockey team in action. They’re at home against the Sharks, and I know we have a few Sharks fans lurking in the comments. Anything goes, enjoy.

Discussion Question: If you had to trade one or the other, who would it be, Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances?

Sabathia, Soriano rank as Type-A free agents, Garcia a Type-B

Via MLBTR, the official Elias free agent rankings for the 2011-2012 offseason have been released. CC Sabathia, who is expected to opt out of his contract before tonight’s midnight deadline, is a Type-A free agent and the highest ranked player this winter. Rafael Soriano, who is not expected to opt out, also qualifies as a Type-A. Freddy Garcia is a middle-of-the-pack Type-B. None of the team’s other free agents (Jorge Posada, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, etc.) qualifies as a Type-A or B.

If offered arbitration and he signs with another team, the Yankees will get that team’s first rounder and a supplemental first rounder (pulled out of the air) for Sabathia. Garcia will bring back just the supplement first rounder, and Soriano is a non-issue. The deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their free agents is midnight ET on November 23rd. The Yankees will surely offer Sabathia arbitration and I think they should offer it to Garcia. Anyway, the full list of Type-A’s and B’s is available on our 2012 Draft Order Tracker.

Mailbag: Sizing up off-season trades

Nick writes: So I know as Yankees fans (and just fans in general) that we over value our prospects/players. Everyone wants a top flight Ace, or a “#2” starter but they don’t want to give up Montero and Banuelos (for the most part anyway). What type of pitchers are available for a package that could include some of the following prospects: Dellin Betances, Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, Adam Warren, David Phelps, George Kontos. Also, the Mets were somehow able to get a top prospect for Beltran for a half year. What kind of haul could Swisher bring back on the pitching prospect side? Maybe one of the Braves young starters? Not saying that should happen, just curious of his value for a full year.

Nick’s question raises a number of issues I’d like to address regarding off-season expectations. He’s clearly right. As fans we tend to overvalue the players in the Yankees’ system while underestimating other teams’ needs. Even if we take a step back and try to look at the situation from a different vantage point, we often misunderstand what teams seek in trades. It all leads back to the RAB off-season mantra: your trade proposal sucks.

Thankfully, Nick’s question stops short of a trade proposal. Here’s a breakdown of a few choice parts and what they mean for the Yankees’ off-season.

What type of pitchers are available for a package that could include some of the following prospects: Dellin Betances, Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, Adam Warren, David Phelps, George Kontos.

This question brings one issue to mind. Rarely, if ever, will you see a quantity trade. That is, the more players you add to a hypothetical trade package, the less likely it is to become reality. If a team does desire to trade a No. 1 or 2 starter, they’re going to value quality over quantity. More players in a trade package typically means less high-end value.

Guys such as Phelps and Kontos are afterthoughts in any significant deal. They might go in a package for a pitcher, but they’re not going to play a big part in said package. Even a guy like Sanchez won’t headline any deal. Maybe the Yankees can entice a team by packaging Betances, a high-end and near major league ready arm, with Sanchez, a far away but promising prospect. But there is no chance that they package, say, Sanchez as the headliner in a deal along with Phelps and Kontos. They’re just not going to get much back for that, because the only high-end player in the deal is at least three years away from the majors.

Any trade for a useful pitcher will have to include either Montero, Banuelos, or Betances as the headliner. A few of those other guys might be included, but they’re not the indispensable parts. Without a high-end prospect that is near or at the major league level, teams simply will not part with their top talent. Maybe that changes if the Yankees are looking at a player in a contract year, such as John Danks. But even then it’s hard to see a deal getting done without Betances at least.

Also, the Mets were somehow able to get a top prospect for Beltran for a half year. What kind of haul could Swisher bring back on the pitching prospect side?

The Mets found themselves in a unique position this season. They had one of the best outfielders in the league and had no use for him themselves. They also had a number of teams that could have used the upgrade. But most importantly they had the Giants, a team that was in a rough spot. They were clinging to a three-game lead in the NL West, with Arizona nipping at their heels. Their offense was horribly underpowered, to historic proportions. They absolutely needed Beltran, and so they gave up a valuable pitching prospect for him.

It’s a bit different in the off-season. Teams can take their times constructing rosters. They can also look at a slightly less productive, but much cheaper, option to start the season and then see what develops. In addition, there are a number of free agent outfielders who can fill spots for just money (and perhaps a draft pick). Why trade a pitching prospect for Swisher when you can sign Carlos Beltran, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Josh Willingham, Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick, or David DeJesus? Some of them might not be quite as good as Swish, but they also won’t cost a prospect.

That is to say, Swisher’s trade value isn’t that great. Mike made this point pretty clearly in his post about picking up Swisher’s option.

Maybe one of the Braves young starters?

This just brings up a quick note. The Braves traded Derek Lowe today. That doesn’t hurt their rotation much, but the move does make them more reliant on young starters. They’ll likely opt to retain their depth and focus on other areas. I’d be shocked if Atlanta moved any other starters this off-season.

To put it another way: if the Royals are looking to add starters rather than trade some of their young prospects, you can bet that most teams won’t be willing to trade young starters. In fact, as we’ve seen lately, far more teams are promoting and extending their young pitchers. The free agency game just isn’t attractive, and it appears that both players and teams are starting to recognize this.

We can expect the Yankees to remain active this off-season, looking under every rock for a deal that will improve the team for 2012. That might be a trade or an undervalued free agent, but whatever the case we can expect plenty of rumors from the hot stove. What we can’t expect is the Yankees to acquire something for nothing. Furthermore, we can’t expect the Yankees to acquire rare resources that other teams control and covet — especially if they’re only willing to part with fairly common prospects. That is, you’re either going to see the Yankees make a big splash with one or two enormous moves, or you’re going to see them operate as they did last off-season, taking advantage of their pro scouting department to find a few underrated players. Either way, it will make for great winter entertainment.

What Went Wrong: Rafael Soriano

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Having a budget surplus is a good thing, except when some of the higher-ups have an itchy trigger finger. After losing out on Cliff Lee and pretty much all significant free agents last winter, the Yankees took an unnecessary plunge into the open market. On January 13th, they agreed to sign former Rays closer Rafael Soriano to a three-year contract worth $35M (surrendering their first round pick to Tampa in the process), and as an added bonus, he was given the ability to opt-out of the contract after each of the first two seasons. The deal was ownership-driven, specifically by Randy Levine.

Soriano was coming off two straight dominant seasons (2.66 FIP in 138 IP), but he had never stayed healthy for three consecutive years in his career. The plan was to make him Mariano Rivera‘s well-paid setup man (the contract is the sixth largest ever given to a reliever in terms of average annual value), forcing David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain into the sixth and seventh innings, moves that were somehow going to make the rotation stronger. The bullpen had been improved, but at an unfavorable cost.

The new setup guy went through Spring Training without a hitch, which is good news. Soriano opened the season with a 1-2-3 inning against the Tigers on Opening Day, but little did we know that it would be nearly four month before he had another clean inning. He pitched again in the team’s fourth game of the season, shrugging off concerns about a lack of velocity. The entered the game with a four-run lead the next day, but allowed the Twins to tie it thanks to three walks and a hit in two-thirds of an inning. Soriano did not speak to reporters after the game, compounding the problem. After hearing from team officials and agent Scott Boras, he apologized the next day.

Soriano went through April by putting men on base and occasionally allowing runs, finishing the month with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) and a 7.15 ERA in 11.1 IP. After allowing just a dozen earned runs for the Rays in 2010, he had already allowed nine in his first month as a Yankee. He also missed a few games with a sore back. Soriano opened May with three straight scoreless outings, but ten days into the month he had to go for a precautionary MRI on his balky right elbow.

The MRI showed nothing more than inflammation, and two days later he was back on the mound. After walking two in a scoreless inning against the Red Sox, Soriano was again shelved due to the elbow, and this time he was expected to miss a week. A bullpen session had to be cut short a few days later, forcing the Yankees to put their setup guy on the DL on May 17th. Another throwing session had to be cut short a week later, and this time it prompted a visit to Dr. James Andrews. Andrews diagnosed the injury as an inflamed elbow ligament, the same one he’d replaced in Soriano’s elbow via Tommy John surgery in 2004. He was expected to miss at least six weeks.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Soriano’s rehab went fine, right on schedule, and he faced hitters for the first time on July 13th. He started a minor league rehab assignment on July 18th, then was officially activated off the disabled list on July 29th. During his absence, a span of 67 team games, Joba went down with an elbow injury of his own while Robertson emerged as a dominant, All-Star caliber setup man, the kind of pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting with Soriano.

After a few appearances to get back into the swing of things, Soriano took over seventh inning duties while Robertson continued to pitch the eighth. He retired the first 15 men he faced after coming off the DL, then finished the season on a nice little roll with just two notable hiccups: an extra-innings three run homer to Coco Crisp on August 24th, and another three-run homer to Matt Joyce to turn a one-run lead into a two-run deficit on September 27th, his final appearance of the regular season. He allowed just one baserunner in 4.1 IP during the ALDS, but unfortunately that one baserunner was a go-ahead solo homer to Delmon Young in the seventh inning of Game Three.

All told, Soriano threw 39.1 IP during his first season as a Yankee, pitching to a 4.12 ERA and a 3.97 FIP. For comparison’s sake, scrap heap pick-up Cory Wade threw 39.2 IP with a 2.04 ERA and a 3.76 FIP for the Yankees in 2011. Soriano’s strikeout rate (8.24 K/9) was identical to what he did in Tampa last season, but his walk (4.12 BB/9) and homerun (0.92 HR/9) rates were considerably worse, nearly double his 2010 rates. His calling card of being unable to stay healthy for three consecutive season remained intact as well.

Soriano will not be exercising his opt-out clause before tonight’s midnight deadline, meaning he will return to the Yankees bullpen in 2012. He figures to again handle the seventh inning since Robertson is entrenched in the eighth, making him an $11M middle reliever. That’s $11M the Yankees could have put towards starting pitching this winter. The bullpen is better with him, there’s no doubt about it, but staying on the field has been a struggle for Soriano throughout his career, and 2011 was no different.