Things have changed very quickly for CC Sabathia. It’s not to long ago that he was the ace of the Yankees staff and was one of the top pitchers in MLB. Now he is facing potential microfracture surgery on his knee that could leave his career in jeopardy.
Sabathia opted out of his contract with the Yankees in the winter of 2011, and the Yankees re-signed him to a five-year, $122 million extension to keep him from free agency. It was an added year and $30 million from Sabathia’s original Yankees contract that he signed in 2009.
That contract has now turned into an albatross for the Yankees, but it was hard to complain about the contract at the time with what Sabathia had accomplished with the Yankees and what they had in their rotation.
Sabathia was coming off three seasons in New York in which he was a combined 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA and finished in the top 4 in AL Cy Young voting all three years. Also, he had an incredible combined 17.5 WAR and 3.27 FIP. He was the definition of an ace by pitching over 200 innings in every season, always being there when the Yankees needed him and being the top pitcher on a championship winning club.
The Yankees had nowhere to turn for an ace for an ace if they let Sabathia walk. C.J. Wilson was the second best pitcher on the market behind Sabathia, and he is more of a second or third starter. Yu Darvish was available–and obviously he would have been the guy to sign based on revisionist history–but the Yankees did not seem to have much interest at the time and he was still an unknown.
The Yankees ended up signing Hiroki Kuroda and trading for Michael Pineda to try to solidify their rotation. However, it was still necessary for Andy Pettitte to come out of retirement in 2012 to help save New York’s rotation after Pineda got injured and Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova were ineffective.
Sabathia was great for the Yankees again in 2012 by going 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA. His 8.87 K/9 rate was his highest as a Yankee, so his stuff showed no decline in the first season of his extension. Sabathia was at the top of his game in Game 5 of the ALDS when he pitched a complete game shutout in which he allowed only four hits and struck out nine. He was also an out away from pitching game a complete game in Game 1 of the series, so he basically carried the Yankees to the ALCS.
2012 would almost have certainly would not have been a playoff season without Sabathia. Everything was looking fine for 2013, but suddenly Sabathia just lost it. His fastball velocity was down to 91.1 MPH and he could not learn how to adjust to that in one season. Getting outs on the inside of the plate to batters was a challenge, and he was unable to get away with mistakes any longer.
It was truly shocking how fast and hard the fall was for Sabathia. He got hit hard to the tune of a 13.0 percent HR/FB rate. He lost weight and got in the best shape of his career, but it had the opposite effect on the mound for him. What a turnaround it was for Sabathia to go from one of the best pitchers in the AL to one of the worst in just one season.
Yes, Sabathia has had a ton of innings on his arm, but you’re lying if you predicted what happened to him in 2013. The Yankees had little choice in giving Sabathia the extension that they gave him. In hindsight they do not give it to him, but Brian Cashman does not get to operate with that luxury. If Sabathia had hit the open market it is very likely some other general manager gives him the same money.
It’s an unfortunate situation since Sabathia is still one of the best free agents to ever come to New York. He is a big time leader in the clubhouse and a class act. You would have thought if anything he would start to break down in the last two years of his extension and not at age 32.
The Yankees are now in a situation where they would be better off if the microfracture surgery forces Sabathia to retire. That is the harsh reality of it since they would be off the hook for the rest of his money, and even if he comes back the chances of him being close to what he was is remote.
Sometimes things bad things happen and it is nobody’s fault, which is the case with Sabathia’s extension. It stinks that it did not work out, but the Yankees did what they had to do at the time.