Sabathia’s Opt Out

When CC Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the New York Yankees in 2009, it looked as if the Yankees had acquired their ace of the future. That future may be in jeopardy, as Sabathia has recently hinted at exercising his opt out clause following the 2011 season. While Sabathia is already well compensated, it’s definitely possible, if not likely, that Sabathia can make more money on the open market if he turns in another solid season.

If history is any indication, Sabathia shouldn’t have a problem churning out another solid season. Over his career, Sabathia has remained exceptionally healthy, averaging over 32 games started per season. Over that stretch, it’s tough to find another pitcher with Sabathia’s combination of dominance and consistency. He has shown no signs of decline at this stage of his career, and has posted five straight season with a WAR above 5.0. Barring an injury, or a complete loss of skills, Sabathia will likely perform at the same level in 2011.

If (when) he does, the Yankees will be put in a tough position. Sabathia, who already makes $23 million per season, can use the Cliff Lee contract as leverage in negotiations if he chooses to opt out of his deal. Over the course of Lee’s contract, the lefty averages a yearly salary of $24 million. It might seem foolish for Sabathia to go to war over an extra $1 million per season, but there’s an argument that he actually could deserve more. Lee didn’t own the consistency or spotless injury history that Sabathia possesses, but that didn’t stop teams from paying Lee more last off-season. Sabathia would be a year younger than Lee if he reached free ageny, so teams might be slightly more inclined to offer Sabathia an extra year.

If Sabathia is unsure about whether to opt out after the season, he doesn’t have to go far for advice. Alex Rodriguez went through the exact same situation in 2007. Even though A-Rod was already signed to a massive deal, he chose to opt out of his contract to secure a more lucrative deal from the Yankees. Rather than allow Rodriguez to walk, the Yankees gave him a ten-year, $275 million contract. While Sabathia won’t receive that type of deal, it’s important to note that Rodriguez was 32 years old when he opted out, older than Sabathia would be after this season. Even though it’s only one example, Sabathia could look at the A-Rod situation and use it to his advantage.

Of course, all this talk about Sabathia’s opt out clause couldn’t come at a worse time for the Yankees. The rotation is already considered the weakest part of this team, and losing Sabathia would be a gigantic blow. If AJ Burnett fails to bounce back, and the young prospects cannot take a step forward, locking up Sabathia becomes an even bigger priority for the Yankees. While that situation isn’t likely, it shows that Sabathia has little to lose, and potentially a whole lot to gain, if he chooses to opt out.

The Yankees will have the entire 2011 season to develop a plan in case Sabathia opts out of his deal. Brian Cashman is already saying all the right things about Sabathia, and it appears both sides are happy at the moment. After another successful season with the team, it would be foolish if Sabathia didn’t at least test the market. The Yankees might not be happy about re-working Sabathia’s contract after only three seasons, but they’ll likely do whatever it takes to keep CC in NY.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


43 Responses to “Sabathia’s Opt Out”

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  1. Ari Collins says:

    Has any player ever not opted out when it looked like they could make more money by doing so? Granted, Sabathia may not get that much more than he’s getting now per year, but it’s hard to see him becoming a FA after this year and not getting at least five years, and probably six.

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  2. Josh says:

    “He has shown no signs of decline at this stage of his career”

    I disagree. Since 2008, his K/9 rate has dropped from 8.9 to 7.4, and his walk rate has gone up .7. And while he has upped his GB%, his LD% last year was over 3 percentage points lower than his career best, show some signs of luck. His xFIP each of the last two seasons has been worse than any other season since 2004. He is still one of the best pitchers in the AL, but there are some small-ish signs of him regressing.

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    • suicide squeeze says:

      His strikeout rate and walk rate last year basically matched his career rates….I wouldn’t be super-worried.

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      • Josh says:

        I agree, it’s nothing to be super-worried about, or even moderately worried. But his career numbers are skewed by K/9 rates below 6 and BB/9 rates were about 3. His was good, but not great, and it wouldn’t help his cause if his rates regressed even more towards pre-2005 numbers.

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  3. Bill says:

    I could see him getting this money from an up-and-comer with money. I’m thinking Baltimore. They’d pay him more just to get him out of NY.

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    • Ryan says:

      That would be true if the franchise wasn’t on life support.

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      Given NY’s pitching situation at the moment, there’s no way someone like Baltimore could outbid NY for Sabathia. NY only has 3 legit starters right now, there’s just no way they could afford to let their #1 walk at the end of the year.

      NY’s talked a lot about reigning in some of its spending the past few years, but it would be insane to draw a line in the sand for Sabathia. Unless some other team is willing to really, truly, wildly overpay him, he’s staying in NY.

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    • Mat says:

      “I could see him getting this money from an up-and-comer with money. I’m thinking Baltimore. They’d pay him more just to get him out of NY.”

      I see someone is from Baltimore…..

      But in all honesty, that’d be about the stupidest thing they could do. Throwing a TON of money at a pitcher while not having anything resembling the revenue stream of the NYY. That team is not going to be in contention for at least a couple more years so I don’t see why pulling a Jayson Werth, for a pitcher no less, would make any sense at all.

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  4. JohnnyK says:

    I was surprised that Dave argued against CC opting out in yesterday’s chat; unfortunately, I only read the chat after it was done so I had to resort to a comment: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/fangraphs-chat-21611/#comment-544021

    Even if his peripherals drop a little more, his old-school-stats should remain at or near the current level, and as you say with the Yankees pitching-starved I would be very surprised if he doesn’t opt out and get a deal with at least the same AAV but more guaranteed years and a player option for the last year.

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  5. phoenix2042 says:

    i bet he doesnt opt out, but we get a apparently joyful report that the yankees have extended him another 3 years or so. He doesnt want to leave NY, he just wants a longer deal that takes him to maybe 37 or later and his opt out gives him leverage with the yanks to get it.

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  6. Disco says:

    In terms of business it obviously would be the smart move to opt out, but word was the opt-out was only put in there in case CC hated NY. If he liked it, which he does, he was supposed to be operate in good faith not opt-out.

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    • joser says:

      Really. That’s written into the contract? Or you have have personally talked to everyone involved and they all agreed on this?

      Because business is business, and the Yankees of all teams know that. They’ll screw players as much as their contracts allowed, and kick them to the curb as soon as they’re done with them; and they’ll tolerate players doing the same to them (just look at the ARod opt-out). Business is business; “good faith” is what is written down in the deal, nothing more and nothing less.

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      • Disco says:

        What’s with the attitude?

        I never put any opinion into the comment, except for where I said it’s a good idea for CC to opt out.

        I just stated the intention was that CC was not to use it unless he hated NY. I’m with you that that means nothing.

        So calm down. Jeeze.

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      • joser says:

        Sorry. Guess I was in a bad mood. Just don’t see why we should put faith in what the uncorroborated “word” is, or why we should expect anybody to stick to an unwritten wink-wink-nudge-nudge stipulation, if such a thing even existed.

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  7. Jonathan says:

    If he opts out the Yanks should let him go. They will have gotten a great deal–3 years of CC’s prime without overpaying for the decline phase.

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    • MikeS says:

      The problem with that would be replacing him. As the article points out, the Yankees are already scrambling to fill out the rotation and given the position they are in, they want at least three guys they can rely on in the post season. Throwing five John Garland’s out day after day may get them to the playoffs based on their offense (or it might not) but they wouldn’t be happy about their chances when they got there. Even if they ee an obvious replacement, they still don’t have as many starters as they would like.

      He would have them over a barrel. Is it wrong that it makes me happy when the Yankees spend a wad of money becuse they have to, not because they want to?

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      As a Twins fan, I second this sentiment.

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  8. Preston says:

    Well that’s true, but where do they get a replacement. Next year’s free agent crop isn’t stellar, and their pitching is thin right now. They have a bunch of young guys coming up but Cashman would probably prefer to only break in one young pitcher at a time. Give him six years at 24 million, the Yankees won’t notice the bump in AAV (but it’ll help CC’s ego) and yeah the two extra years are a risk but I think CC’s worth it.

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  9. Telo says:

    It seems pretty obvious that they just negotiate an extension after this year. Why would CC go anywhere when all signs indicate he likes NY? He certainly isn’t going to bail from a perennial contender in an amazing city for an extra 1 mil a year… but he can pretend like he might bail to squeeze a few extra bucks out of them.

    Yawn

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Dont count Philadelphia out. They want to pay top dollar for top pitchers and he wouldn’t even have to move.

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      • Telo says:

        ………..

        If there was one team in the league he isn’t going to, it’s Philly. They are going to have so many non-pitcher positions to fill in the next 5 years, to drop another 25 mil/year on a pitcher would be insane-o.

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    • notsellingjeans says:

      Why Sabathia would go elsewhere:

      Stats, and the Hall of Fame. Basically, the same reason Cliff Lee picked Philly. The same reason Halladay is thrilled to pitch in the NL. Remember how good Sabathia was in Milwaukee? I’m sure he does, too. All great players think about their legacy, and think about their HOF chances.

      If Sabathia runs off a string of five 20-win seasons in the NL with a sub-3.50 era, he’s got better Hall of Fame chances than he does by winning 16-20 games with a sub-4.20 era pitching for the Yankees in the AL East.

      It’s also just really fun to dominate your profession, and it’s easier to do that as a pitcher in the NL than it is in the AL East.

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      • Telo says:

        While he would certainly shave a few pips off of his ERA, I’m not sure how many more wins he would have. The Yankees are about as good of a team as you can ask for in terms of putting you in a position to win games on the mound.

        And while I think you are correct in that CC will determine his HOF worthiness in the next 6-7, as of right now he is on a trajectory to be borderline, and I think NY is as good of a place as any to finish off a HOF career.

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    • chuckb says:

      but he might “bail” in order to get a few extra years out of them. The money might not be an issue but he could use the opt-out as leverage to get another 3 years, the 3 he already gave the Yanks.

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  10. notsellingjeans says:

    I think the Sabathia and Lee situations reveal that the Yanks made a mistake not signing Crawford. Crawford wasn’t even overpaid.

    The Yankees will probably end up needing to trade for an elite starter at some point in the next 12 months, and it would’ve been a hell of a lot easier for them to do that if they had the luxury of being able to include a cost-controlled Brett Gardner coming off an excellent year.

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  11. Sean says:

    Why does his motivation have to be all about $$$? He’s a west coast guy. Maybe he just wants to seize the opportunity to finally go back home. I mean he was paid handsomely in NY. He got his ring. He doesn’t need to stay in NY.

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    • Preston says:

      It’s not all about money. It’s about security, ego, opportunity and a whole host of other things. If he doesn’t like living in NY he might take this opportunity to go home. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think he wants to stay where he is, he just wants to get the recognition that he has been as durable and consistently great as a pitcher can be and be rewarded for it. He also would like the extra long term security of a few more years. When his contract would be over he would be old by baseball standards and might have to settle for one year contracts and move every year to continue his baseball career. Currently he has the ability to postpone that kind of uncertainty for two or three extra years.

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      • Scooby Snacks says:

        CC has also mentioned that he has settled his family in New Jersey year-round. Of course it’s he can still opt out but that factor certainly makes his decision more difficult.

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  12. Shauntell says:

    The Yankees should let him go? They’d be left w/ Burnett, Hughes & Nova. They’ll have to spend money on some good pitchers sooner or later & there are not many guys better or as durable as CC. It’s not as though the Yankees are afraid of overpaying either nor should be.

    CC has been getting worse since he hit his peak in 2008, no doubt about that. Hopefully he does not decline any further. We’ll see what effect the 25 pounds he lost has on him.

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  13. Double D says:

    Everyone is forgetting the offseason storyline – he lost approximately 30 pounds. It’s true, as said in the article, that he will be younger than Lee was going into free agency, but his body type does not tend to age well (just look at numerous postings on this site for reference of that). He is trying to show he can be successful with a more lean, in-shape physique. If he is successful this year and his weight is around 250 or lower, that’s the best thing he can do to increase his suitors’ interest should he opt out.

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  14. DonCoburleone says:

    Barring an injury plagued season by Chub-Chub there is no chance in heII he exercises the option for the rest of this contract. I don’t know what Dave Cameron’s smokin when he says he doesn’t believe CC will opt out. The scenario you just laid out is exactly what I told him in yesterday’s chat. The amount of leverage CC will have (assuming another healthy season) will EASILY be enough to get an extra $30 or $40MM guaranteed on a new deal. (current deal would pay him 4/93 after this year. He could easily get the 5/125 Lee just got). And on top of all that, who is his free agent pitcher competition next offseason? Carlos Zambrano??

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    • Ryan says:

      Aye! To boot, ownership has indicated they intend to keep CC. They knew what the option meant when they signed him. A good ’11 will go a long way to grease the wheels. The Yanks want a slim CC too, knee surgery is no joke for a pitcher.

      The analogy to ARod is interesting, but notice the heat that got thrown at ARod when he wasn’t the “clutch” guy they signed him to be as his option approached. CC hasn’t seen anything like that.

      In any case, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in the kitchen at Cliff’s house when his best friend CC would come over and they’d talk over how they were going to make each other wildly rich.

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  15. BD says:

    The idea that CC needs to put himself into an easier competitive environment (i.e., the NL) in order to improve his “borderline” HoF chances seems silly to me. The guy is obviously a lock for the HoF if he keeps doing what’s been doing for another 6 years or so. I think he’s already the active career leader in wins by a LH. (Wins are of course a flawed stat in comparing one pitcher to another, but career wins is a pretty good place to start in estimating a starter’s HoF chances.)

    Also, pitching many years in a high-visibility market for a perennial contender is probably just as valuable in terms of enhancing CC’s HoF chances than going to the NL. For one thing, I don’t think it has escaped the notice of HoF voters that the NL is an easier league to pitch in. Being able to say about a pitcher, “He had a career ERA of [blank] pitching in the AL East” counts for something. “Big game” opportunities also count for something. Just being better known nationally counts for something, too.

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    • notsellingjeans says:

      It’s quite a leap to say that he won’t regress for the next six years though. The NL would help hide that regression.

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  16. Danmay says:

    While comparing CC’s opt-out to A-Rod’s makes sense for obvious reasons, I think there are some meaningful caveats to consider.

    Specifically, what I am referring to is that A-Rod, at the time of his opt out, was already on his way to being a sure-fire Hall of Famer, if not an upper echelon Hall of Famer. In addition to that, there was reason to believe that he stood a decent chance of becoming the home run king. I think these things played a large role for New York in deciding that they couldn’t afford to not give him what he wanted.

    Mind you, since his opt-out we have found out about his PED use and injuries have started taking a toll on his production.

    What I’m trying to say is that as much as the the Yankees need starting pitching, they don’t need CC. I think they (of course “they” doesn’t include Cashman) needed A-Rod to finish his career with the Yankees.

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  17. chuckb says:

    After this season, the Yanks would have him for 4 years and $92 M. Will any team give him more than that? Perhaps but, if not the Yanks, then who? Maybe the BoSox. Maybe the Angels or Dodgers looking to make a splash. Maybe the Cubs. I’m just wondering if the Yanks call his bluff would he really be able to get more than what is owed him.

    On the other hand, is it really worth it to the Yanks to let him go over an extra year or 2 and a few million $? Probably not so they probably wouldn’t be willing to risk it. He threatens to opt-out and they negotiate an extension is the likely scenario b/c the Yanks probably have more to lose by letting him go than CC does by going.

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    • notsellingjeans says:

      There are probably at least 10 teams in baseball who would give C.C. more than 4 years, $92M after 2011. The game is awash in cash. And the owners have an incredibly favorable labor deal in comparison to the other major leagues.

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  18. Eric says:

    Overlooked in the Jeter drama of a few months ago is how it could impact pitchers’ view of the NYY as an attractive place to pitch. Sure, they will always spend and should contend, but with the calcified remains of Jeter and Arod locked into the left side of that infield for the next several years, any pitcher who is at all concerned with his ability to prohibit the other team from scoring runs will have to think loong and hard about whether the Yankees are the place to be.

    I would not be surprised if this was not part of Cliff Lee’s rationale for passing on the Yanks attempts to get him to come to NY.

    If Sabathia can get similar money elsewhere, on a team that can contend (and he would help many teams contend), his legacy could be better served pitching with a different infield behind him.

    Just something to think about. If

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