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Sabathia, the Yankees, and the demise of free agency

With extensions to Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, and now Justin Verlander, obtaining an ace in free agency will be impossible over the next few seasons. The Yankees will sink or swim with CC Sabathia. Will he continue his ace form?


Whether it was the Elvis Andrus extension, Buster Posey's deal, or a combination of Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright, and the rest, there has been no shortage of opinions indicating that free agency is withering, dead, or dying. The death of free agency would be incredibly difficult for a team like the Yankees, increasingly reliant on veterans, to contend.

The Good News: Free agency is not dead. There were free agents available last year, and they will be available in coming seasons to help the Yankees continue to contend. Even without dipping into the Zack Greinke bidding, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Hiroki Kuroda, Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, and Dan Haren all signed contracts the Yankees could have easily afford. This coming offseason, Kuroda, Haren, Phil Hughes, Matt Garza, Roy Halladay, and Josh Johnson will all hit free agency. They should all get healthy contracts, but nothing that should scare the Yankees away. With CC Sabathia and a rotation with the type of players listed above, the Yankees have shown they can compete at the highest level the past few years.

The Bad News: Outside of David Price (maybe) hitting free agency after three more full seasons, there are no aces on the market, and that will make the Yankees vulnerable if Sabathia falters. While Price is not likely to sign with the Rays, given the way the Rays have operated, it would not be surprising to see Price traded within the next two years. Who's to say he will not get traded to some other deep pocketed team that gives him that $200M extension before reaching free agency.

More Bad News: The Yankees have no internal options. If you take a look at our prospect rankings you will see one pitching prospect who has pitched above High-A, Manny Banuelos, and he is out for the entire year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Questions remain about Michael Pineda as well and his ability to come back after shoulder surgery.

Back to the Good News: At least for now, CC Sabathia is still an ace. He has averaged 5.3 WAR over the last three seasons, including a solid 4.6 WAR last year despite having "only" 200 innings pitched. The question is how long will he remain an ace. Since 1971, only 37 pitchers have pitched more than 2000 innings through their age 31 season. Sabathia has a tad over 2564 inning pitched. Of those 37 pitchers, only 12 had a career WAR within 15 either way of Sabathia's 58.7. Of those 12, only 6 had a WAR over the previous three seasons within five of Sabathia's 16.

What Sabathia has done up to this point in his career is pretty remarkable and very few players have had similar careers. Of the six remaining comparable players, two became relievers (Dennis Eckersley, John Smoltz), one flamed out completely (Pedro Martinez), one continued pitching in line with his career up to that point (Rick Reuschel), and two had multiple ace seasons in their future (Mike Mussina and Javier Vazquez).

Sabathia may or may not continue pitching at this level over the entire life of his contract, but due to increased cash flow throughout baseball and the lack of aces on the free agent market or in the system, CC Sabathia will be the most important Yankee over the next few years.

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