Fired Up: Sabathia Extension Ignites Hot Stove

New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia opts not to opt-out, marking the first major move of the hot stove season.

Once CC Sabathia declined to opt-out of this contract with the New York Yankees and sign an extension, he quickly altered the starting pitching market. Sabathia quite possibly left millions of dollars on the table by simply agreeing to the extension. Had he become a free agent, his price may have gone up significantly had another team entered to face off against the Yankees in negotiations. Below are Sabathia’s numbers over the last four years.

CC Sabathia

2008 27 17 10 2.70 35 10 5 253.0 1.115 0.7 8.9
2009 28 19 8 3.37 34 2 1 230.0 1.148 0.7 7.7
2010 29 21 7 3.18 34 2 0 237.2 1.191 0.8 7.5
2011 30 19 8 3.00 33 3 1 237.1 1.226 0.6 8.7
11 Seasons 176 96 3.51 355 33 12 2364.1 1.227 0.8 7.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2011.

The best comparison to Sabathia in terms of talent and performance is Philadelphia Phillies lefty starter Cliff Lee. Lee’s stats for the last four years are below.

Cliff Lee

2008 29 22 3 2.54 31 4 2 223.1 1.110 0.5 6.9
2009 30 14 13 3.22 34 6 2 231.2 1.243 0.7 7.0
2010 31 12 9 3.18 28 7 1 212.1 1.003 0.7 7.8
2011 32 17 8 2.40 32 6 6 232.2 1.027 0.7 9.2
10 Seasons 119 69 3.65 250 26 11 1641.2 1.223 0.9 7.3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2011.

First, while Sabathia is two years younger than Lee, he has also thrown the equivalent of 3 more seasons than Lee. I utilized the last four seasons for a comparison as Lee spent some of 2007 in the minor leagues because he lost complete control of his game. Lee’s amazing return to the big leagues in 2008 came with pinpoint control (he walked 1.37 per 9 for the four-year period), where Sabathia has good control (2.45 per 9 same period). Both men are logging similar amounts of innings. Each tend to keep the ball in the park and strikeout close to the same number of batters per nine. Lee finishes more games than Sabathia, most likely due to his impeccable control. Lee has the edge in ERA but, Sabathia’s ERA is excellent too considering the AL East teams he has had to face since 2009. Per Baseball-Reference, total WAR over the four-year span is 23.3 for Sabathia and 23.5 for Lee. They can’t be much closer in terms of performance.

In respect to salary, Lee’s contract with the Phillies (2011-2015) is for 5 years/$120 million with an option of $27.5 million in 2016 (includes a $12.5 million buyout). The option becomes guaranteed if Lee is not on the disabled list at end of the 2015 season with an injury to his left elbow or left shoulder and is able to throw at least 200 innings in 2015 or 400 innings combined in 2014-15. Sabathia’s new deal is 5 years/$122 million with an option in 2017 for $25 million (includes a $5 million buyout). The option becomes guaranteed if he does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury. The guaranteed money (including buyouts) places Lee ahead of Sabathia $132.5 million to $127 million. If both fulfill the requirements of the options the deals are within $500K.

There is no telling how many more innings Sabathia can log if he continues to have weight problems. Eventually the wear from pitching and from carrying the extra load will catch up to him. However, the Yankees take a good gamble that his performance will be great to above average for the entire length of the deal. If he fulfills the option requirements for 2017, then it portends to a healthy and productive Sabathia. Sabathia could have held the Yankees’ feet to the fire by opting out. They have a middle of the road rotation without him. Had he elected free agency, the Boston Red Sox or the Texas Rangers would have dove in head first for Sabathia, if for no other reason than to drive the price up on the Yankees. I suspect he could have netted anywhere from $1.5-$2 million more per season and still received the option year.

I see Sabathia turning in some above average to excellent seasons during the next five seasons. He’s at the top of his peak now and the last couple years of this contract will be his decline years. He can perform admirablely during his decline considering the Yankees will still be spending big bucks on their offense and run support should not be an issue. I see him winning between 75-85 games over the course of the 5 years. He’ll have one or two standout seasons with 20 wins and over 200 SO and then will begin to tail off to a couple of 16-18 win seasons and finish with a 13-15 win season. My guess is there is a 50/50 chance he is able to fulfill the requirements to make to option vest. He may well pitch a couple of seasons more on a reduced contract with the Yankees or somewhere else whenever the contract ends. By staying with the Yankees over the next five seasons, Sabathia has given himself the ability to accumulate over 250 wins by the end of the five years (he needs 74 wins to reach 250). He also has a chance to reach 3000 strikeouts by the end of the five seasons. He has averaged 183 SO over his career, though he’s gotten more punchouts recently. If he can average 197 SO over the five years he will reach just over 3000. A resume with 250 wins and 3,000 SO could warrant a Hall of Fame opportunity, especially if he is able to win at least one more World Series and a second CY Young Award (won in 2007) during the remainder of his time with the Yankees.

The Yankees made a deal they had to, but at the same time, should consider themselves fortunate that Sabathia chose to handle the situation the way he did or it could have cost them another $7.5 to $10 million over the length of the deal.

Other FA Signings

Juan Rivera agreed to a one year $4 million dollar deal (including a $500K buyout) with a team option for 2013 for the same amount with the Los Angeles Dodgers. First off, it is good to see the impending sale of the Dodgers is not going to hinder them too much in the free agent market. Rivera was having a terrible 2011 season with the Toronto Blue Jays and was traded mid-2011 to the Dodgers.  He produced a .740 OPS with 5 HR and 46 RBI in 62 games, which provided some protection for Matt Kemp and helped ease the loss of an injured Andre Ethier. Rivera’s finest season was in 2009 with the Los Angeles Angels where his triple slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) was .287/.332/.478 with 25 HR and 88 RBI. Rivera, 31 years old, made $5.25 million last season, the last season of a 3-year contract. If he is able to get back to a 20 HR, 80 RBI player this will be a good deal for the Dodgers. My feeling is that he had a good run in the second half and is more likely to hit 12/15 HR with 65 RBI. This could still be worth it to the Dodgers for the upside that he returns to the production of 2009 with regular at-bats hitting in the middle of the lineup. At the least his signing provides stability in the outfield and compliments Kemp and Ethier.

Christopher Carelli writes for TheFanManifesto. He can be followed on twitter at @BaseballStance.

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