The CC Decision

The biggest decision the Yankees have to make this offseason is what to do when CC Sabathia opts out. When the Yankees signed CC, I wrote the following:

According to multiple reports, the new deal with Sabathia includes an opt-out clause after three years. This could really work to the Yankees advantage if they are smart. If Sabathia pitches the way he should over the next three years there is a good chance he opts out. By then we will know if Chamberlain and Hughes are truly top starters and if players like Brackman were worth the risk. They could then let Sabathia walk, get a bigger deal elsewhere and therefore be off the hook for the downside of his deal.

Some will argue that the clause gives Sabathia all of the upside and the Yankees all of the downside, but what MLB contract doesn’t give all the upside to the player? With this clause, the Yankees will be able to reassess their need for Sabathia after 2011 when they may not have the same need for him as they do now.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know the answers to the questions I posed in 2008. Hughes has been erratic. Joba is recovering from surgery and Brackman was a disaster this year. In short, the Yankees haven’t produced a replacement for Sabathia internally. Add in the fact that there isn’t a replacement for CC on the free agent market and you can certainly see why the Yankees would do everything they could to retain him. But, that would be a big mistake. Yes, not having CC on the 2012 Yankees means they could miss the playoffs, but that is a risk they should take.

And CC is going to opt out. He is going to opt out because the Yankees offered Cliff Lee, a pitcher older than he is, an enormous deal last year. He is going to opt out because Brian Cashman said things like, “I can reaffirm that if Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, that we will not participate in his free agency,” and then the Yankees signed him to the biggest deal in MLB history. CC Sabathia is going to opt out because he believes, and history is on his side, that he will get a huge pay day in free agency- probably from the Yankees.

CC has been great in a Yankee uniform and projecting the future is hard to do, but betting on pitchers is a bad idea. The Yankees signed CC when he was 28, right in his prime. He is now 31, and that is a significant difference. He has already had a knee procedure and for a pitcher in his potential walk year, it was surprising to see him pack on the pounds as the season progressed. The deal he signed in 2008 is a perfect mix or risk and reward from the Yankees’ standpoint- four more years beyond 2011 at a rate of $24 million per. If I were to bet, at least one of those years will be a bad one, but that is a risk the Yankees are certainly able to take.

But any commitment beyond four years makes no sense and the Yankees need to think about the season they just finished. For under $5 million they got 300 innings and a sub-4 ERA from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. While I don’t expect that to happen again with those guys, the Yankees have the financial resources to sign a bunch of guys who could replicate some of that performance and they also have a number of arms in the minors who could too.

There are also trade possibilities out there. Clayton Kershaw is going to enter arbitration this offseason as is Gio Gonzalez. It’s always worth making a call to Seattle to check on Felix Hernandez and the Giants might be interested in trading Matt Cain. If I am the Yankees, I go to CC and tell him that we’ve loved having him as a Yankee and we hope he will decide to stay for the remaining four years of his contract. Make it clear that if he opts out, they won’t pursue him with a better offer. He won’t believe them, and based on their past history he shouldn’t, but that’s what I hope happens.