In the fall of 2011, when he had the choice of opting out of the seven-year deal he had signed with the Yankees in December 2008, there was no question in CC Sabathia's mind about what he wanted to do. Instead of testing the free-agent market, Sabathia signed an extension that gave him $30 million and an extra year with the Yankees.
"For me, coming from another organization and coming here, I see the other side of it,'' Sabathia said Saturday at an event in New Jersey promoting his wife's clothing line. "I know how hard it can be playing for a team that doesn't have a chance to win every year, and I want to be a part of this. There was no question about me staying.''
Robinson Cano felt differently, leaving the Yankees for the Seattle Mariners on Friday after agreeing to a 10-year, $240-million deal. What does Sabathia think about that?
"I am surprised,'' he said. "I've been a close friend of Robbie's and played with him for five years now, but I know the business of baseball and I know how it works. He made the best decision that was possible for him and his family, and you can't be mad at him for that.''
Sabathia said he was surprised that Cano decided to leave voluntarily and that the Yankees wouldn't do more to keep him.
"A player like that, putting on the pinstripes and playing your whole career in New York means something,'' he said. "New York to me meant a lot; it might not have meant that much to him. It's a difficult choice being a free agent, and he made a tough choice and I know he's happy with his decision and his family is happy.''
The Yankees wasted no time trying to fill the large void that Cano's departure leaves in their lineup. With centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann already in the fold, the Yankees announced that outfielder Carlos Beltran had agreed to a three-year, $45-million deal. Infielder Kelly Johnson was inked to a one-year deal.
"I don't know if you can ever augment what you lose with a guy like Robbie Cano, but those are some pretty good players that we just got to step into some key positions,'' Sabathia said. "I'm excited about us going forward, and obviously there are some more holes to fill, but [Brian] Cashman and Randy [Levine] and those guys look to be doing that.''
The Yankees also announced the re-signing of one of their own free agents in starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who was 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA in 2013. Kuroda, Sabathia and Ivan Nova figure to have a lock on three of the five spots in the rotation going into spring training. "There are a couple more question marks,'' Sabathia said, "but I'm a little more excited that he's going to be back and be healthy and be that rock for us again.''
It's nothing new for the Yankees to be big players in the free-agent market, but it was something different for Sabathia to see a player of Cano's caliber sign with another team.
"He's the best second baseman in the game and I wish him the best -- not when he's playing against us, but I definitely wish him the best,'' Sabathia said. "But I look forward to what we're going to do. It seems like we're active and still making moves and doing a lot of things, so I'm excited to see what the winter meetings bring. It's not even the winter meetings yet, and there's still so much action. I think it'll be a fun offseason.''