CC Sabathia surprised all of baseball by doing exactly what everyone suspected he would: sign an extension to remain with the New York Yankees.
Although there was little doubt Sabathia would remain in pinstripes, conventional wisdom suggested the big left hander would first opt out of his current deal before returning to the Bronx. Instead of allowing it to get that far, however, GM Brian Cashman set about hammering out a contract extension that could add as many as two more years to the four remaining on Sabathia’s existing deal.
In some ways, the Yankees’ preemptive strike is both a validation and repudiation of arguments advanced on both sides of the Sabathia opt out debate. While some will portray the left hander’s decision as proof of his often-stated desire to end his career in pinstripes, others will likely treat the extension as a de facto opt out. When you really think about it, both interpretations have merit. Because Sabathia decided to eschew free agency, it seems as if his preference was for pitching in New York. However, his loyalty did come at a price, which isn’t to suggest dishonesty of any sort. Rather, Sabathia leveraged both his contractual rights and superior performance over the last three years into a well deserved extension.
Would Sabathia have opted out without an extension? And, if so, what kind of offers would he have received on the open market? It would have been interesting to find out the answers to those questions, but both he and the Yankees did well to leave them unaddressed.
From the big lefty’s perspective, the addition of one year at $25 million with a vesting option for the same in 2017 provides a level of stability that could last into his age-36 season. If Sabathia really does enjoy pitching in New York, this added security would be attractive for obvious reasons. Then, of course, there’s the money. Perhaps not coincidentally, the new deal boosts his average annual salary from $23 million to $24.4 million, or just above the $24 million per year guaranteed to Cliff Lee. Sabathia has never portrayed much vanity during his three years with the Yankees, but there’s something to be said for being the highest paid at one’s profession.
Highest Paid Pitchers, Current Contracts
|Pitcher||Average Annual Value||Years|
Note: Average annual value includes only guaranteed money.
The Yankees would have obviously loved to have Sabathia pitch under the final four years of his existing deal, but guaranteeing at least one more year shouldn’t be too arduous. After all, if Sabathia’s option year vests, he’ll still only be 36 years old when the deal expires, or the same age as Lee when his current deal runs out. The worst case scenario for the Yankees would be a serious injury, but that could happen at any time with any pitcher. However, by making the 2017 option contingent upon a healthy left shoulder, the Yankees have at least built some measure of protection into the deal.
Barring an injury or an unexpected drop off, the Yankees should be able to recoup enough value from Sabathia to offset the inevitable imbalance that could occur at the end of the contract. It’s also worth noting that in 2017, Mark Teixeira’s contract will have expired and Alex Rodriguez will be on the final $20 million installment of his mega-deal. So, even if Sabathia is a compromised pitcher making $25 million in that season, the Yankees should have enough payroll flexibility to compensate.
According to fangraphs.com, Sabathia’s performance in pinstripes has been worth approximately $82 million, so over the first three years of the deal, the Yankees have come out ahead by almost $12 million. If you could put a price tag on the heavy lifting Sabathia did in the 2009 postseason, the “paid-in capital” he has contributed during his first three years in the Bronx might equal, or even exceed, the guaranteed money in the extension. In that sense, the Yankees are basically paying their ace left hander back for three great seasons, while hoping he has several more in the tank. That seems like a fair reward for Sabathia and a solid bet by the Yankees, which is why both sides are probably very happy tonight.