Yankees mean business with CC deal
Signing rearranges division race, opens up free-agent market
LAS VEGAS -- CC Sabathia, the hefty left-hander who heard that pinstripes make you look slimmer, has made his fashion choice and, with it, remodeled baseball's fiercest division and offseason market.The 28-year-old left-hander's decision to sign with the New York Yankees, the team that seemed sworn to not let him get away, removed the biggest pitching name from the free-agent bottleneck, and overnight rearranged the American League East pecking order.
And when you step to the front of baseball's toughest division, you return to the top of baseball.That is clearly the Yankees' mission. And, like Lola, whatever the Yankees want, the Yankees can get. Even if they have to bid against themselves, as they did with Sabathia -- to outbid his remaining concerns about family life in New York, giving him about $160 million over seven years. "Once the Yankees got involved, we knew what we were up against," said Doug Melvin, general manager of the Brewers, the only other team, beyond rumors and conjecture, with a firm offer for their short-lived ace. "We also made a very substantial offer, and it wasn't enough. "We were happy for CC because that's a pretty good deal, and the Yankees got themselves a pretty good pitcher. We had a good time with CC during the summer. He brought a lot of fun to our organization and our city, and that's the way we feel about it." Echoing the same sentiment of resignation, Angels general manager Tony Reagins said, "We knew what the numbers were with CC, and we couldn't be a player in those terms." Yankees GM Brian Cashman has a lot of reconstruction to go, but Sabathia is one heck of a bullish foundation for a team plotting a return to the postseason after having its 13-season run interrupted. "It's a great first step," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter, "but not the final step." Did the Yankees' pumpkin rotation turn into a golden chariot at midnight PT -- when Cashman is believed to have made the deal-making seventh-year offer to Sabathia during his overnight visit to Vallejo, Calif.?
Carsten Charles Sabathia is all about winning. Even reflected by his choice of hotels when he visited this town for the early stages of the Winter Meetings -- he stayed at the Wynn.Comparing staff aces, the defending division-champion Rays now match one-time 14-game winner James Shields against Sabathia, a consistent workhorse who has averaged 15 wins, 32 starts and 200-plus innings in his eight seasons. "Every year, the Yankees and the Red Sox make signings to impact the division, and it's just beginning. We know the division won't be the same," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who must get a kick out of now being the one chased by the Big Two. "What I really like about the situation is that the raising competition will bring out the best in our players," Maddon said. "You don't beat up on the Yankees; you beat them by pitching better and playing better defense." The Red Sox, who as the AL Wild Card continued their own playoff presence, already have a younger rotation led by Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Although he would love to regain right-hander Derek Lowe, Boston GM Theo Epstein's focus is on Mark Teixeira. But the Sabathia signing will also impact the market for the marquee position player among free agents. Teixeira's agent, Scott Boras, now has a $160 million target as he characteristically pursues the offseason's biggest contract package. "I don't think it has a measurable impact on a position player," said Boras. "When you negotiate position-player contracts, the metrics you use are more defined and different with those players." At the very least, well-heeled teams purportedly in on both can now focus on Teixeira without any Sabathia distractions. The Angels' Reagins was one who conceded that point. If you thought Sabathia was good before, just wait now that he no longer has to pitch against the Yankees. His career record against the Bombers is by far his poorest against any team: 1-8, with an ERA of 6.16; in Yankee Stadium, he was 1-4 with an 8.61. Up-close-and-personal impressions aside, there was a body of impressive work to convince Cashman and team brass that this was the guy to heal the wounds opened by a season-long pitching nightmare. Most compelling was his selfless efforts down the 2008 stretch for Milwaukee, a team whose uniform he had donned only 10 weeks earlier. Sabathia carried the Brewers into the playoffs by pitching on three days' rest three times in the last 12 days. The Sabathia agreement also profoundly affects the bountiful remainder of the 2008 free-agent class. Not so much because it redirects the teams which missed out on him -- not that many could afford to be in the nine-figure fray, with only his last club, the Brewers, believed to have actually made an offer for him. The perceived interest of the Angels, Giants, Dodgers and Red Sox never got to the money stage. Rather, the roadblock has been removed from in front of other starters on the market. Lowe, A.J. Burnett, Ben Sheets, Jon Garland and Oliver Perez -- the other premium left-hander among free-agent starters -- may not have overtly been waiting for Sabathia to set the market. "I think the market for certain pitchers is a little bit more defined now," Boras concurred. "Certainly for the clubs that may have been involved in CC and the clubs that have always been interested in those [other] players." The roadblock in reality was New York. Had Sabathia declined him, Cashman was prepared to prioritize others on that list, and even now he will turn his attention intently to Burnett, Sheets and Lowe. But other clubs seeking Lowe (Red Sox, Phillies) or Burnett (primarily the Braves, but most of the East Coast) will no longer be held up by their agents' need to wait on the Yankees. "Whether it's CC or someone else, the top guys usually set the market," said Mets general manager Omar Minaya. "There tend to be more signings afterwards. There can be only one winner and the losers have to address their needs and go to what they consider their 'B' plans." Atlanta -- whose rotation has been leveled even more than that of the Yankees -- has been perceived as being on the inside track to Burnett on the strength of a four-year, $60 million offer with a fifth-year option. However, getting Sabathia could in fact improve the Yankees' chances of also landing Burnett -- who has done his best work without the pressures of being a staff ace and may be attracted to pitching in CC's wake. With the Florida Marlins earlier in his career, Burnett came of age on a Beckett-led staff. In Toronto, he flourished under Roy Halladay. Without specifically addressing Burnett's choice, Boras could certainly see Sabathia as a magnet. "It gives players more of a roadmap of where the Yankees are going," the agent said. "If I'm a baseball player and I have CC Sabathia on my team, I'm thinking it would be something that would be welcome. I think from the Yankees' perspective, it certainly adds a star player to the team." And puts an old/new rabbit on the rails for the other greyhounds, both those racing in their division and in all of MLB, to chase.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.