The Yankees have committed to a youth movement. In less than six months’ time, the team bid farewell to the likes of Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann. They’re not the only veterans who could soon find themselves outside of the organization. Brian Cashman recently told reporters that he’s listening to offers on Brett Gardner and Chase Headley.
It shouldn’t be surprising then to read reports suggesting that the Yankees could be gauging trade interest in veteran left-hander CC Sabathia. This fits with the current front office strategy of replacing aging and expensive players with younger talent. Sabathia, 36, is the oldest player on the roster. He’s also just a year away from free agency. He’s the kind of trade candidate the front office has moved in recent months.
While trading Sabathia could make sense, there are a number of reasons to keep him. In 2016, the southpaw posted a 3.91 ERA with a 4.28 FIP. That’s his best ERA since 2012, and best FIP since 2013. He also did a much better job of keeping the ball in the park in 2016. His 1.10 HR/9 is closer to his career norms than the 1.96 and 1.51 he put up in 2014 and 2015, respectively. He also stayed healthy and logged 179.2 innings, his most since 2013. By almost any measure, Sabathia was a productive, if not great, back-end starter.
There are also reasons to believe that Sabathia can sustain this newfound success. A change in pitch selection is the most measurable of these developments. Declining velocity was one of the major factors driving Sabathia’s struggles from 2013-2015. According to Brooks Baseball, the left-hander’s four-seam fastball averaged 93.19mph in 2012. That dropped to 91.22 in 2015. He needed a different pitch to mitigate his diminishing velocity, which is where the cutter came in.
Sabathia tinkered with a cutter in 2014 and 2015 but didn’t embrace it until this past year.
The pitch proved effective, as batters hit just .224 against it. This doesn’t appear to be an outlier year. Sabathia made an adjustment. He added a pitch. That leads one to believe that he’s learning how to pitch with lesser velocity, which suggests that the results are for real.
Brian Cashman mentioned earlier this month that he was looking for “pitching, pitching, pitching.” Trading away Sabathia, the second most productive member of the 2016 rotation, would undermine that goal. Even if the Yankees are trying to transition to a young core, they still need pitching. Somebody has to take the ball every five days. Sabathia, an effective pitcher with a history of pitching in New York, is one of the better options.
The 2017 squad figures to be the youngest team that the Yankees have fielded in recent history. That’s exciting. Young lineups offer fascinating glimpses into the future. There’s also something to be said about veteran leadership. There are benefits to having an older presence in the clubhouse, a player who can mentor and develop the young talent. The departures of Beltran, Rodriguez, Teixeira, and McCann have left a leadership void in the locker room. A Sabathia trade would only exacerbate that difficulty.
If the Yankees are blown away with a trade offer for Sabathia, they will likely accept it. That should be the only scenario in which they trade their former ace, however. The Yankees need pitching a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Sabathia provides both. The organization should be proud of its commitment to a youth movement. They set a goal and have largely stuck to it. Trading Sabathia, however, just might not be the most prudent move.
What do you think? Should the Yankees hang on to Sabathia, or trade him? Let us know in the comments below.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball.