Yankees fans, breathe a sigh of relief. After some speculation that CC Sabathia would move on, the team announced a new contract with the big lefty for one year and $8 million. This deal is the best of both worlds for the Yankees: not only do they retain a fan favorite and clubhouse leader in his final year, they are also signing a pitcher who fits what the Yankees are looking for in a fifth starter’s role.
A lot of fans wanted the Yankees to get younger with their starting pitching and load up on external arms. However, Sabathia doesn’t block the Yankees from doing any of this. His one-year commitment is relatively cheap on the open market, and you can never have enough depth on a big league roster. Sabathia’s signing gives the Yankees options. Now, the team can take its time with Justus Sheffield instead of rushing him to the majors. They can also explore the idea of using some young arms like Jonathan Loaisiga or Chance Adams in the bullpen.
Right now, the Yankees still only have three MLB-level starting pitchers on the roster (not counting Sonny Gray, who Brian Cashman said would be dealt this offseason). There are still two open spots for some combination of prospects and acquisitions to take over. The idea that re-signing Sabathia blocks someone in the rotation carries little weight. Just this past year, Sonny Gray, Domingo German and Luis Cessa made over 40 starts due to a lack of depth. That will not be a problem next year.
As for the contract itself, it’s a fair one for both the team and the player. Sabathia has earned over $250 million in his big league career; it’s not like the $2 million pay cut from last year’s contract is going to affect him that much. By the same token, $8 million will hardly impact the Yankees’ bottom line.
Sabathia may have even been worth a little bit more on the open market. This is a pitcher who made the second-most starts and had the third-most innings on the Yankees’ staff last year, and posted a rock-solid 3.65 ERA. He rarely completes six innings anymore, but CC understands why. Aaron Boone doesn’t push him, and there’s no reason Sabathia can’t continue to provide five-to-six innings of two-run, five-strikeout baseball like he’s been doing for the last three years.
The left-hander has said that this will be his final year on the mound, but he can still produce. He was 45th in WAR among the 99 starting pitchers that threw at least 130 innings last year, ahead of pitchers like Chris Archer, Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Michael Fulmer. Yankees fans have thought about acquiring almost all of those names over the past few years, yet old reliable CC Sabathia has been as good or better than all of them in his twilight years.
Salary-wise, the Yankees made out well. Sabathia’s age, troublesome knee issues, and hometown discount likely drove down his price, but the Yankees are getting one of the league’s best depth starters for the same cost as Jason Vargas and Andrew Cashner, and less than what the likes of Brandon McCarthy, Tyler Chatwood, and Alex Cobb have fetched in recent years. There’s no doubt that Sabathia is the best of those pitchers, and for a fraction of the cost.
Let’s also not undercut the value of intangibles in this deal for both the Yankees and Sabathia. He never wanted to leave New York. He is arguably a top-five starter in Yankees history, and one more year with the Yankees could help boost his Hall of Fame case. He’s a clubhouse leader on a team that desperately needs them, and has no qualms sticking up for his teammates. This will be Sabathia’s 11th year with the Yankees, and he’s probably earned a plaque in Monument Park as the face of the Yankees’ pitching staff for an entire generation of fans.
Re-signing CC Sabathia to a one-year, $8 million deal is a win-win for the Yankees and Sabathia. If he continues at his current level, or even regresses a little bit, he can easily provide $8 million of value both on and off the field. The Yankees’ rotation will look drastically different next year, but Sabathia will still be around as the wily veteran, and that’s just the way he likes it.