In David Schoenfield's recent position-by-position breakdown of the Yankees and Mets for ESPN, he assessed that the Yanks have "as wide a range of possible outcomes as any team in the majors." He's right, because at this point heading towards the 2015 season a World Series victory seems equally plausible as a last-place finish in the AL East. The reason for this? Variables. With every 25-man roster comes a certain degree of uncertainty, but this current assemblage of Yankees players causes fans' optimism for health and productivity to collide with pessimism based on recent history. But unforeseen circumstances are far from a death knell on a season. An organization's ability to have a plan and react accordingly are equally as important as knowing how to field or hit. So what's the plan if the reigning ace, CC Sabathia, continues his alarmingly rapid decline?
We've all been witness to Sabathia's steep and steady drop off, going from serving as a dominant workhorse for the duration of his first dozen seasons to having a lackluster 2013 and an injury-abbreviated 2014. It would only make sense to have some kind of contingency plan should his performance continue to dwindle, so why not consider a transition to the bullpen? Far-fetched? A bit, yes. Unlikely? Very. However, the Yankees are in no position to throw away a start every fifth day in the name of good will, even if he did give them all they could ever ask for during his first four seasons in pinstripes.
When looking at the team on paper, there is no obvious replacement for his spot in the rotation, and the bullpen isn't exactly desperate for another arm at the moment (though a lefty-righty-lefty combo of Miller-Betances-Sabathia sounds enticingly lethal), but this isn't about making room for someone more deserving, it's about maximizing what's left in the arm of a once-great pitcher. A-Rod's fat contract won't make him a starter by default, and neither should CC's.
It could be a move based in proactivity, even if it reeks of desperation. Even as Sabathia's fastball become more and more hittable, his craftiness and his stuff has still been there, striking out hitters at a rate of 7.8 per nine innings over the past two seasons. A move to the 'pen for CC would be more akin to the role changes of John Smoltz or Kerry Woods, which weren't necessarily based on inability to get the job done but more an inability to stay on the mound. If you're wondering how Sabathia's fared in any previous relief appearances in his career, the sample size is quite low. He's done it only once in his career, coming out of the 'pen in game 5 of the 2011 ALDS. He struck out four in 1.1 innings, but walked two and surrendered the go-ahead run.
A necessity for any ace of a pitching staff, CC has made a habit of getting hitters out more and more after his first time through the order. However, over the course of the past six years he's been trending in the wrong direction, with opponents batting averages rising higher and higher against him in their second and third times through the order. So, with heat that's easier to sit on and stuff that yields diminishing returns as opponents make their third and fourth trips to the plate, it's only sensible to consider placing him in a role that allows him to rear back on his fastball to compensate for his long-lost MPH and keep hitters guessing by only giving them one look at him.
We can only hope it doesn't come to a place where this has to be seriously considered, but if he enters June or July and is pitching more like a fifth (or sixth) starter and the rotation is otherwise healthy, it wouldn't hurt to consider other roles for the big man.