It was maybe a blessing in disguise when the struggling CC Sabathia went down with another a knee injury and was removed from the Yankees rotation. The team is stuck paying him $50 million over the next two years and instead of pushing him out this year, they had planned to put together a six-man rotation just to keep him around. Conveniently, the knee acted up again and he ended up on the disabled list. It seemed like his career might be over until Yankees general manager Brian Cashman declared otherwise:
"I think we'll be in a position to plug him back into the rotation. That's the plan."
It seemed like with five healthy pitchers, CC was destined for the bullpen, just to see if they could get any value out of him going forward, but it looks like the Yankees see no other option. Because there isn't.
Whether it's this year or next, CC Sabathia will eventually return to the rotation because he's already proven that he can't handle the workload of a reliever. When starters migrate from the rotation to the bullpen, they often pick up an increase in velocity because they don't have to hold back over an entire game. Sabathia wouldn't be able to do that because he's already shown that his body can't hold up over an increase in velocity. He's been pitching with decreased velocity over the last two years and while trying to pitch at a faster level, he ended up injuring his surgically repaired knee again. He was asked about the injury:
"what else is there to do? Pitch how I've been pitching or go out there and try to compete? So I decided to give it everything I had."
It turns out he can apparently throw at a lesser velocity and struggle, or he can ramp it up to a higher level that he'll be more effective at, but his body can't withstand. Pitching in the low-90s and upper-80s out of the bullpen is not a very effective strategy.
Given his inability to stay healthy in a regular five-man rotation, even with Joe Girardi's attempts to push starts back, it's incredibly unlikely that CC Sabathia will be able to pitch at the frequency a relief pitcher demands. He wouldn't be able to warm up quickly and act as a short reliever, so the only other thing to keep him around for is long relief. While it's hard to maintain faith in anything he does, CC has maintained a .732 OPS when batters have faced him for the first time and he has kept hitters to a .753 OPS in his first three innings of work. Sabathia has also shown an ability to maintain a certain level of success depending on how many pitches he's thrown with opponents limited to a .732 OPS in pitches 1-25 and a .707 OPS in pitches 26-50. The numbers only go up as CC throws more innings, more pitches, and faces more batters, but before then, he might be usable.
The Yankees would probably love nothing more than to oust CC Sabathia from the rotation, but given how his body has deteriorated over the years, remaining a starting pitcher is probably what will add the least amount of stress on his body going forward. He's also making far too much money to get thrown into the bullpen anyway, so expect CC to return to the rotation once he's eventually ready to return. Just remember, two more years!