CC Sabathia has put the Yankees on notice. If he has a good season, he’ll want more money from them--or another team. If he has a so-so-season, he’ll stay under the terms of his current agreement, which averages $23 million through 2015. He also gets a suite on every road trip.
That makes it win-win for Sabathia and nothing but waiting for the Yankees. What strategy can they employ? Essentially nothing. The opt-out gives the player all the leverage and by merely suggesting the veritable escape clause, Sabathia has put it in play from Day 1 of the spring training.
Sabathia will be the starter on Opening Day and if he has a nice outing, the opt-out will be the topic. If he does not, it also will be brought up.
We assume Sabathia knew the question was coming on the first day of camp and had to know his response would trigger strong reaction. He could have said he’s signed for four more years and left it at that. But the playing field has changed since Sabathia essentially pronounced himself a Yankee for the term of his deal.
That change would be Cliff Lee's deal and the less than daunting free agent pitching class of 2012. Sabathia is like the undeclared presidential candidate who leads the pack before even entering the race.
Lee’s deal with the Phillies averages a million more a season than Sabathia. Why wouldn’t Sabathia want to see if he could up the ante for his services from the Yankees or another team? Let’s put it on this level: If you made $50,000 a year and were obligated by contract to remain in your position, you would have no choice if another firm wanted you at, say 75,000. If your current contract allowed you to leave that first job, what would you do?
Sabathia could enter a free agent market that would have C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle as its top pitchers. Chris Carpenter is a possibility only because the Cardinals may not be able to afford the $15 million option on him if they have to empty the vault to retain Albert Pujols.
Sabathia holds the hammer because the Yankees put it in his hand. They negotiated this contract with him, just as they did with reliever Rafael Soriano, who could take a walk after this season or next in his three-year deal.
The early Yankee strategy appears based on a falsehood. Co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner thinks Sabathia will stay just to be with a contending team. ``Because we’re going to be in it every year, every single year,’’ he was quoted at spring training. ``You can’t say that about any other team, except maybe the Red Sox, but they weren’t in it last year. And the Phillies certainly seem to be keeping it going, but how long will that last? The only team you can be assured, as long as we own them, [that is] going to be in it every year is going to be us. We’re going to be a major contender to win the championship every year.’’
Steinbrenner would still have to back that with an open checkbook. The early guess would be an additional three years at Lee money.
And maybe give Sabathia his own hotel on the road.