The day after Mark Teixeira announced his retirement, another of the Yankees’ 2009 ring-bearers, CC Sabathia, took the mound against the Indians, the team that chose him with the 20th overall pick in the 1998 draft.
The Indians paid Sabathia roughly $36 million during a six-year stay that yielded a Cy Young Award for him (2007) but zero titles for long-suffering Clevelanders. So far, the Yankees have invested $180 million in Sabathia, winning that one World Series in his very first Bronx season.
It’s unlikely that there will be another with Sabathia wearing pinstripes, but he still has $25 million coming to him next year as long as his left shoulder remains intact. His past issues have been knee-related, and there’s nothing in his contract that voids the vesting option over that. His surgically repaired right knee, fitted with a brace, is fine.
“I feel good,” Sabathia said Saturday after taking the loss as the Yankees fell to the Indians, 5-2. “It’s huge, not having any pain in my knee.”
Sabathia, like Teixeira, is 36, but in the pitcher’s mind, that apparently is where the similarities end. A day earlier, Teixeira stood at a podium and declared that he will call it quits at the end of this season. Maybe some players can try to convince themselves otherwise, but the numbers don’t lie. Teixeira, struggling on his own bad knee that will need surgery this winter, is batting .199 with a .629 OPS.
“As the season went on,” he said, “I realized my body can’t do it anymore.”
With an expiring contract, the timing worked out for Teixeira, who will have earned a total of $212 million in his 14-year career, a tidy sum to retire on. The Yankees contributed $180 million to that Teixeira fund and got three MVP-caliber seasons from the eight-year deal, which went downhill after he injured his wrist while hitting off a tee in preparation for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
During Teixeira’s first three years with the Yankees, he batted .266 with an .877 OPS, averaged 37 home runs and 114 RBIs over 157 games, and provided Gold Glove defense at first base. From 2012 to the present day, however, he slid to .231 and .770, averaging 18 homers and 53 RBIs over 90 games, numbers seriously hurt by playing only 15 games in 2013.
Such is the risk of long-term contracts, and Brian Cashman still is paying the tab on that 27th crown, even in the midst of this rebuilding effort.
Sabathia has been a workhorse his entire career, amassing more than 3,100 innings, and there is no escaping the toll from that. In his first four Bronx seasons, from 2009-12, he averaged 18 wins with a 3.22 ERA and 226 innings. The next four years? He has averaged seven wins with a 4.68 ERA and 134 innings.
On Saturday, Sabathia wasn’t able to reverse the current spiral he’s in, giving up homers by Jason Kipnis and Mike Napoli in obvious fastball counts. Sabathia was done after throwing 100 pitches in 5 2⁄3 innings, and the loss dropped him to 1-5 with a 6.62 ERA in his last nine starts. He also has served up 11 home runs in 53 innings. That’s an abrupt turn from the seven starts previous to that plunge, when Sabathia was 4-2 with a 0.82 ERA and allowed one homer in 44 innings.
Sabathia didn’t really give any explanation, but it’s probably nothing more complicated than an older pitcher, with serious mileage, simply getting tired.
Cashman knew he eventually would get here with Teixeira and Sabathia, but those two situations are manageable. The Alex Rodriguez saga, however, has been a different animal. He still is due close to $27 million and the Yankees refuse to play him, another example of how a mega-contract can create a giant migraine for the front office.
A-Rod already has pocketed $314 million from the Yankees — he forfeited $25 million from the 2014 Biogenesis suspension — and now, to borrow his own phrase, is “the pink elephant in the room.”
With Teixeira’s departure, followed by Sabathia and A-Rod, the Yankees will turn the page on the spending spree that helped get them the 2009 title. As for No. 28, that might take a while longer, based on the Yankees’ deadline sell-off, with a few more big checks to write and more time to wait.