Negotiating With The Big Sleep

(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?

About Matt Seybold

Matt teaches at The University of Alabama. Roll Tide. He specializes in American Literature and Rhetorical Economics. Fate chose for him the peculiar perdition of rooting for the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

5 thoughts on “Negotiating With The Big Sleep

  1. Opt-out clauses are always used, unless the player is injured or doing poorly. In anything, CC's stock is higher now than when the Yankees signed him since he'll have put up three more top seasons and in a high-pressure environment. He's also no longer the highest-paid pitcher in the game by yearly average salary, with Cliff Lee now making about $2 million more per season. Cliff's place on top of the salary charts will be coming to an end. CC will probably remain with the Yankees, but they may have to give him another seven-year deal for $27 million a year.

  2. Great writing, and a nice little reminder of what nobody seems to be talking about so far this year (thankfully).

    Things could get really ugly if he gets to free agency. The Rangers will for sure be in on him, and even the Phillies might make a push (Oswalt coming off the books and all). I know Cashman doesn't negotiate until a player's contract is up, but the Yanks need to lock him up before he can opt out. And then sign Wilson in the winter.

    • I don't think it really matters that much. No one can seriously outbid the Yankees for a player they want, so the only way they lose Sabathia is if he wants to go somewhere else like Lee did. And there's not really anything they can do to prevent that either way.

      FWIW, C.C. always talks about how he likes it here, and he has built a house here, so I don't think he's going anywhere. He will opt out and get another 2-3 years and $40-60 million added onto his guaranteed money though.

  3. when the first news that he would most likely opt out came out, I thought "why? If he loves it so much here why opt out?" then I thought about it, and there is pretty much no downside (for him) and absolutely no reason he SHOULDN'T opt out. other than the ignorant fans will "think he's greedy"

    • Absolutely. And, so long as he stay a Yankee, I can't imagine the publicity backlash will be significant. I do agree with Brien, Sabathia will probably sign an extension. I see no reason why he would want to leave, but he's likely adding a couple million per year if he continues to pitch as well as he has in the first half. Prior to the season, Joe Sheehan actually argued that it would be a blessing in disguise if Sabathia moved on (I don't agree, but his rationale has some validity):