The Yankees got a big boost to their 2012 season plans of capturing a 28th World Series when they reached a contract extension with CC Sabathia through 2016, with a vesting option for 2017. The extension prevents Sabathia, who helped lead the Yankees to a World Championship in 2009, from becoming a free agent. It solidifies the Yankee rotation in a free agent market that is thin on top-of-the-line starting pitching this winter. It keeps Sabathia out of the hands of the Boston Red Sox, who will want to put a winning team on the field after their terrible September. Off of the Rangers, who once again are baseball’s runner-ups and, if Sabathia had opted out, may have had questions about re-signing their ace, C.J. Wilson. It keeps him off of the Cubs, who are now run by the man (Theo Epstien, team president) who was unafraid of going head-to-head with the Yankees when he the GM of the Red Sox.
It allows the Yankees to execute the rest of their off-season plans, a large portion of which was to increase pitching depth. It allows the Yankees to, perhaps, spend their large budget on Hiroki Kuroda or Edwin Jackson to be solid mid-rotation help.
Most importantly, for the Yankees, it means that in all likelihood they will be contenders again. Take Sabathia out of the mix, and the Yankees are just a good offense with no ace on the, akin to the teams of failure from the mid-2000’s. With Sabathia, there remains the possibility that the post-season will be dominated by the same pitcher that dominated in the 2009 playoffs, when Sabathia went 3-1 and was named the ALCS MVP.
CC has had nothing but success in the Bronx. He has won at least 19 games in all three of his seasons with New York, and won 21 in 2010. His history of willing his team to victory by consistently pitching on short rest, like he did in 2008 with the Brewers, like he did in 2009 with the Yankees, is unmatched by any other pitcher in today’s game. He is perhaps the top workhorse in the league. Sabathia averaged slightly over 7 innings per start in 2011, in a season when the Yankees saw Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett underachieve and be largely ineffective.
Off-the-field, the management of Sabathia’s contract was a pleasant relief to Yankee fans. Last winter, with Derek Jeter’s contract at an end, both team and client ended up getting into an ugly PR battle, with both sides looking bad. They failed to sign Cliff Lee or Zach Greinke, and their lack of pitching depth cost them when the Yankees back-up plan, Freddie Garcia, put the Yankees in a 4-0 hole in Game 2 of the ALDS. The Yankees were hit with more pitching woes when, just before Spring Training, Andy Pettitte announced his retirement.
The 2011 off-season has been a complete turn-around. The Yankees have already picked up the option on Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. They have handled Sabathia’s contract before the ace even reached free agency. Within the hour of this writing, the Yankees announced that general manager, Brian Cashman, has agreed to a three year deal to stay with the only team he has ever worked for.
Who the Yankees go to next for free agency help is unknown, but we know the general direction. More rotation help is needed. But even if they don’t find it, Hector Noesi and Manny Banuelos may make a run for a rotation spot in Spring Training. The odds, and the paycheck, say that the Yankees will wind up with a solid starting pitcher from free agency. Even without help, a rotation of Sabathia and Ivan Nova proved that the team could reach the playoffs. But the Yankees measure success in championships, and to have success, they will need more help.
But with Sabathia back, the bulk of the help has already returned.