Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Will Lee's Deal Impact Sabathia?

Nice to have Rivera and Jeter back in the fold.

C.C. Sabathia has an opt-out in his contract at the end of the 2011 season. At the time the contract was signed, I was very supportive of this opt-out. My reasoning was two-fold. First, you do what it takes to sign a player you really want within certain limits. If an opt-out after year three is what it takes, that is within those limits. Second, if he takes the opt-out, you've just gotten three years of one of the best pitchers in baseball in his absolute prime. If Cashman had gotten Sabathia to sign a straight-up 3/$69, people would have been in love with that deal. Everyone crushes big contracts in terms of years, so what's wrong with one that has the potential to be less years? Most people said it was the fact that Sabathia had total control. He could have three great years and then bounce, or he could stink or get injured and the Yankees would be on the hook. Correct. But the alternative is that the deal is just a traditional 7 year deal, because that's what it was going to take to sign him. So if he stinks or gets injured, you're going to be on the hook no matter what. This one just gives you an out, and even though it's not in your control 3/$69 is not a bad result.

Of course, Sabathia has been everything the Yankees could have ever hoped for and then some. In two years with the Yankees he's gone 40-15 with a 3.27 ERA, averaging 234 innings and 197 strikeouts (against only 70 walks per year), all good for a two-year ERA+ of 136. He finished 4th and 3rd in American League Cy Young voting in the two years respectively, and most importantly was one of the biggest reasons the Yankees won the 2009 World Series due to his contributions on the field and with the team in general. Not only has he been one of the Yankees' best free agent signings in a long time, he's been one of the most significant free agent signings in all of baseball from an impact perspective in recent memory. As such, the Yankees, I would think, don't want C.C. to opt out. Going back to my point in the last paragraph, it wouldn't be the worst thing. They'd likely have gotten three great years out of him, and wouldn't have to deal with the back end of the contract. However, they would have to replace him in the rotation. And that is where I know at least most Yankees fans want no part of him opting-out.

To that end, I wonder if the Cliff Lee contract is going to affect C.C.'s decision, and if this is something that the Yankees are thinking about. The prevailing thought two years ago was that the opt-out was only in case C.C. and his family didn't like New York. That obviously does not seem to be the case. Jack Curry reported last week that C.C. had asked him about good high schools in Jersey (where the Sabathias live) to send his kids to. This was thought to be the only major concern, because it was unlikely that C.C. could possibly get more money. But that was two years ago when the economy situation of this country and baseball was far more tenuous. As the Jayson Werth contract plainly proves, that is no longer the case in baseball. It is possible that depending on what Cliff Lee gets, C.C. could actually get more.

Next winter C.C. will be a year younger than Lee is now. If he has another year like he's been having, he'll continue to be one of the two best pitchers in the game across the last five years, along with Roy Halladay. If Lee gets, say, 6 years at Sabathia/Santana money ($23) million, C.C. would at least be able to make a case for more years. He's getting paid until he's 35. Cliff Lee would be getting paid until he's 38, running a year beyond when Sabathia's current deal runs out. At the very least, this has to be considered a possibility.

There are two big things that the Yankees have going for them, assuming they want Sabathia not to opt-out, which I'm guessing is definitely the case. First, he seems to be a genuine family guy. Not just one that gives it lip service. He seemed to take the last free agent process very seriously, and now that he's already been through it he doesn't strike me as the type to want to go through it again a few years later and risk having to move again if the Yankees don't bring him back. All when he's already getting paid the biggest pitching contact ever. But money does talk, and if it does that brings us to the second point. If he opts-out, Sabathia will have to be banking that someone else will pay him what Lee gets paid. Especially if the Yankees win the Lee bidding, they may be less inclined to do so, and it's possible C.C. could end up getting less money.

Hopefully this will all be moot, C.C. won't opt out, the Yankees will in the Lee bidding, and they'll be pitching together for at least the next five yeas. But I do wonder if the Yankees are factoring this into their thinking on Lee at all, and how this might impact C.C.'s decision-making a little under a year from now.


the gm said...

If Sabathia sticks around and his kids go to Delbarton, Pat's elation will be too intense to tolerate.

Pat, if CC opts out, do you see him returning to the Yankees, just for more years and more dollars?

It obviously doesn't need to be said, but there are a lot of differences between Cliff Lee and CC. A big one is innings. Now I'm not going to go back into Lee's minor league stats for a comment at 7:10 in the morning, but I can see clearly that Lee has 800 fewer innings pitched in the majors compared to CC. Lot of miles on that arm.

I'm pretty sure I read that Lee's not looking for CC money, so it's not like he's going to sign for more, leaving CC anxious to one-up Lee. But, considering CC has another season like the last two, does he really stand to get more over the next four years as currently constituted?

I'd say yes, but only marginally. And the difference would probably be in terms of reputational damage.

Patrick said...

gm -

really tough to say. that's basically what i was getting at in my 2nd advantage listed for the yankees in this. the yankees are often times the highest bidder in things like this. so it's not like cc is on another team, can opt out and hope the yankees get involved to give him more years/dollars. he needs another team to be willing to go beyond 4/$92 or whatever the exact number is. if the yankees didn't have him, that would seem much more probable. but getting another team in on that - while definitely possible - is not as sure of a bet without the yankees involved. they aren't going to bid against themselves the way they did with rodriguez, i would think.

i think a big part of the reason that other teams might not get involved at years and dollars greater than what he's already making is the innings that you point out. despite being incredible durable to date, his durability may actually work against him. a lot of miles on it, as you say.

i think despite being 32, there is a perception that lee is going to age well. maybe because he's more of a control than power guy, i don't know. maybe because he doesn't have as many miles. i don't know. this means very little in terms of the way this will actually play out but that seems to be the perception that exists.

i'm pretty sure lee is definitely looking for cc money, and then some. there are reports out there that the yankees are willing to go 6 years and between 144 and 150. of course we know that not all off-season reports are true. but i would not be remotely surprised if lee got 6 years (one less than sabathia), but 24 or 25 million per (1-2 mil more per year than sabathia), probably mostly in consideration of keeping the years down.

the gm at work said...


Lee's agent said late last week that he's not looking for CC money. ESPN.com, I believe. However, I guess Jayson Werth's contract might change things on that front.

What should be a reasonable benchmark is Barry Zito's contract. Lee deserves more than that.