Despite providing instant gratification, debilitating long-term deals have forced the Yankees into a prolonged period of mediocrity. That’s the argument the organization has used to explain its relative underinvestment in the team, and which many fans and most in the media have adopted as infallible, conventional wisdom. Unfortunately, all of the available evidence contradicts that claim, with the latest rebuttal coming most emphatically from C.C. Sabathia.
After two seasons plagued by injury and poor performance in 2014 and 2015, Sabathia’s contract became a focal point for those who argue that long-term deals are detrimental to long-term success. It was expected that the Yankees would have to throw good money after bad and shell out another $50 million to the big lefty without getting anything back in return. Instead, what they ended up getting was their money’s worth.
Sabathia’s fWAR heading into his last start of the season is 2.5, which seems modest, until you realize it ranks among the top 60 in the majors and stands above such names such as Zack Greinke, Jeff Samardzija, and Jordan Zimmerman. Why is that trio relevant? Before getting back to that question, it’s worth noting fangraphs.com values Sabathia’s contribution at around $20 million, which isn’t the black hole most expected from the Yankees’ $25 million investment.
Over the course of his Yankees’ tenure, which includes a seven-year deal signed in 2009 as well as two years added as part of an extension, Sabathia has provided the Yankees with $197 million worth of value in the regular season alone. In return, the Bronx Bombers have paid the lefty $186 million. Even before considering his post season contribution, the Yankees have come out ahead. Throwing in a championship for good measure only sweetens the deal.
Several common mistakes are made when fans and media evaluate long-term deals. The most obvious one occurs when they ignore the cumulative value provided and only focus on the backend. As it turns out, Sabathia has managed to justify his expense in the waning years of the deal, but even if he had struggled this year, the overall value of his contract would have been commensurate with the cost.
C.C. Sabathia’s Extension Compared to 2016 Free Agent Deals
Note: Samardzija’s 2016 salary includes signing bonus.
The second mistake results from ignoring the inflationary pressure on baseball salaries and the inevitable need for teams to fill out their roster. And that brings us back to the trio mentioned above. Had the Yankees not extended Sabathia’s deal in 2011, they would have been on the market for a veteran starter this past winter, and the likes of Greinke, Samardzija, and Zimmerman would have headed the list. It took over $400 million in commitments to secure those three pitchers, which makes the final two years tacked on to Sabathia’s contract more than a reasonable alternative.
Conventional wisdom was wrong about Alex Rodriguez. It was wrong about Mark Teixeiria. And, now it’s been proven wrong about C.C. Sabathia. The Yankees’ demise hasn’t been the result of too many expensive, long-term deals. The problem has been having too few. Who knows? With more bad contracts like those signed by Robinson Cano and Max Scherzer, the Yankees’ could be proving the conventional wisdom wrong instead of wallowing in its ignorance.