Offseason Questions: Will Sabathia Opt Out?


CC Sabathia has reached the point in his contract where he can choose to opt-out, and there has been a lot of chatter concerning whether he will or not. He was asked about it after last night’s loss and said “we’ll just have to wait and see.” So it is worth taking a few minutes to examine some factors that may influence his decision.

CC has undeniably been an ace for the Yankees. He is dominant and he is a workhorse who is always willing to take the ball when he is needed. But over the last two months of the 2011 season (a total of 10 starts) his dominance faltered a bit. He had an ERA of 4.06, allowing 32 runs and 11 home runs in 68.2 innings while batters hit .316 against him. Compare this with the first four months of the season (a total of 23 starts) when Sabathia’s ERA was an outstanding 2.56 and he allowed just 55 runs (48 ER), a mere 6 homers, and batters only hit .228 against him.

The question is: do we chalk CC’s poor performance in August and September up to the fact that he was pitching on longer than normal rest because of the Yankees’ 6-man rotation? Or is this a sign that that a 31-year old 6` 7” pitcher who is listed at 300 pounds needs a better conditioning program to maintain his dominance through a full season? If you couple Sabathia’s last 10 regular-season games with his struggles against the Red Sox this season (6.39 ERA, 43 H, 22 ER, 12 BB in 31.0 IP) there appears to be some legitimate cause for concern. Not to mention that, with the exception of 2009, Sabathia’s postseason performances have been less than stellar: 4.78 ERA, 91 H, 47 R, 45 ER, 12 HR, and 44 BB in 84.2 IP.

Time will tell, but Sabathia isn’t getting any younger, and if he does opt out he will certainly be looking for a long-term contract. With Teixeira signed through 2016 at an average of $21 million/year and A-Rod signed through 2017 with $143 million left on his contract after this season, it is hard to say how many long-term, high-priced contracts the Yankees can afford to make without hamstringing themselves in the near future.

Considering that Sabathia’s current contract will earn him $23 million/year for each of the next four years, I just don’t believe that the opportunity a higher yearly salary is available for him. Cliff Lee is under contract for $24 million/year. Roy Halladay’s current deal is $20 million/year for 3 years. And Cy Young shoe-in Justin Verlander is in the second year of his 5-year/$80 million deal. Perhaps if Sabathia had finished the season with the same dominance he had at the beginning of 2011 he could make a convincing case that he had earned a few more years and some additional money. But given how Sabathia’s season did play out, I don’t believe he has done himself any favors in increasing his value.

At this point the only reason I could see for Sabathia opting out would be to extend the years on his deal and ensure that he has a job well into his late 30’s. If this is the case, I hope the Yankees do not repeat past behaviors and overpay based on Sabathia’s past performance. I appreciate everything that CC has done as a Yankee and I think he should be properly compensated for his contributions on the field. But in my opinion, if this turns out to be a “contract year” for Sabathia, I don’t think his performance merits more than the $23 million/season he is already making. Additionally, the thought of the Yankees committing to yet another huge long-term contract makes me incredibly uneasy, especially given the need for another ace and the fact that several players will retire in the next few years and need to be replaced.

At the end of the day it’s hard to say whether CC will actually opt out. As John Sterling would remind us “you can’t predict baseball,” and you often can’t predict contract negotiations either.