The reunion that made too much sense not to happen finally did Saturday when free agent CC Sabathia agreed to a one-year, $10-million contract with the Yankees, a source confirmed.
The deal is contingent on the lefthander passing his physical.
Re-signing the 37-year-old Sabathia, respected and beloved in all corners of the Yankees’ clubhouse, quickly was targeted as an offseason priority.
That was the case even before the Yankees were turned down by Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Ohtani earlier this offseason. Once they were — Ohtani chose the Angels — bringing Sabathia back into the fold became even more pressing.
Even with the addition of Sabathia, the Yankees will explore opportunities to add one more starter to a rotation that, as of now, is composed of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery and Sabathia. Prospects Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams are among the young arms who are slated to make a push in spring training.
After going 18-26 with a 4.42 ERA in the previous three seasons and battling issues with his right knee, Sabathia turned back the clock this past season. While not entirely recapturing the form that made him an ace much of his career, he was mostly terrific, going 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, his lowest ERA since 2012, when it was 3.38.
Sabathia went 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA in four postseason outings, including Game 7 of the ALCS against the Astros. He was wild in his 3 1⁄3 innings, throwing 36 strikes and 29 balls, but allowed only one run.
Afterward, he left no doubt where he wanted to pitch in 2018. “This is my home,” said Sabathia, who signed with the Yankees as a free agent before the 2009 season and quickly put down roots in New Jersey. “This is my home. I want to see this thing through . . . This is where I want to play.”
There were other parties interested in Sabathia’s services — the Angels and Blue Jays met with his representatives during the winter meetings — but with Sabathia wanting to return and the Yankees wanting him back, some kind of agreement seemed inevitable.
“CC was great,” managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said at the Stadium after Aaron Boone was introduced as the Yankees’ new manager. “Clearly, CC was an incredible leader in the clubhouse. The players really looked up to him. He was the true kind of veteran presence that you need.”
General manager Brian Cashman praised Sabathia during the just-concluded winter meetings but offered no guarantees.
“He’s been a great performer for us and there may very well be a chance for us to continue working together, there may not,” Cashman said. “It’s a business on both ends . . . He’s certainly of interest. But because of who he is and what he has continued to do, he’s of interest elsewhere too.”
But the most mutual interest, obviously, was a return to the Yankees.
With a stable of prospects in a stocked farm system, Cashman will continue to stay engaged with teams with available starters — the Tigers (Michael Fulmer), Pirates (Gerrit Cole), Royals (Danny Duffy) and Diamondbacks (Patrick Corbin and Zack Greinke), to name a handful.
The price in terms of prospects that other clubs want in return has been high, but with Sabathia coming back, Cashman can afford to be patient.
“Patience is a virtue,” he said toward the end of the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, speaking generally of moves he wants to make, including possibly adding infield depth after dealing Chase Headley and Starlin Castro. “Really, we have between now and spring training.”
CC last season
Innings: 148 2/3
Strikeouts per 9: 7.3
Walks per 9: 3.0