(Ryan Braun, who somehow went 3-for-3 and ended Sabathia’s day with two outs in the eighth, clearly has memory problems.)
But while Sabathia’s 13-K performance against his former team, arguably his best start so far in a season which has been consistently excellent, was a reminder of just how dominant he can be, it was also a reminder of what scars may be left by his absence.
Quietly hanging over the season, in which the Yankee’s dependence upon Sabathia seems greater than ever, is the Ace’s opt-out clause. He’s not just reminding the Brewers of what they lost, he’s negotiating with the Yankees, reminding them of what they could lose.
His line through Thursday – 11-4, 3.05 ERA, 106 K, 129 ⅔ IP – puts him on pace for his best season in a Yankee uniform. And that doesn’t even take into consideration that Sabathia has consistently been a second-half monster. Over the course of his career, his ERA, winning percentage, K/9, K/BB, IP/G, and WHIP have all improved dramatically after the All-Star Break. In ‘09 he dropped his ERA by more than a run. In ‘08 he dropped it by more than two.
If Sabathia continues down the road toward his third consecutive season leading the AL in wins and possibly his second Cy Young, Brian Cashman and his team will probably have to go back to the bargaining table this November. Some things work to their advantage. Cautionary tales like Barry Zito and Carlos Zambrano have depressed the length of starting pitching contracts leaguewide.
But Sabathia can say things very few pitchers can. This will likely be his fifth consecutive season of 34+ starts and 230+ innings. He has never pitched less than 188 innings. Over the length of his contract thusfar, he’s been top twelve in the league in nearly every statistic for starting pitching, top five in most.
The biggest thing working in Sabathia’s favor, however, is the fact that he would immediately become far and away the best pitcher on the free agent market. By “far and away,” I mean than #2 would be somebody like Mark Buehrle or C. J. Wilson. There would be an abundance of bidders, some desperate. High-payroll team like the Cubs, Mets, Angels, and Giants all have significantly declining obligations in 2012, and not all of them can sign Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, or Jose Reyes.
Moreover, the Yankees don’t possess an heir-apparent Ace. In Sabathia’s abscence, A. J. Burnett or Phil Hughes moves to the front of the rotation, or the Yankees are forced to absolutely sell the farm for somebody like Francisco Liriano, who may or may not adapt to pitching in the Bronx.
C.C. Sabathia mowed over one of the better lineups in baseball this afternoon and with every vicious breaking pitch asked, how much is this worth?