The Risk/Reward of signing CC Sabathia

There may be cons, but there are a lot of pros
12/10/2008 1:53 PM ET
By Joe Auriemma / Special to

CC Sabathia was dependable and clutch with the Brewers. The Yankees are hoping for more of the same. (AP)
CC Sabathia is headed to the Bronx after all. The crown jewel free agent of the offseason will be donning the Pinstripes in 2009 and beyond.

When the contract is finally signed, it will make Sabathia the highest-paid pitcher in the history of the game. There will certainly be a lot of negative and positive reaction about this massive deal, so what is the risk and what is the reward to signing this front line ace?

The Risk
It looks as if Sabathia will be pitching with the Yankees for the next seven seasons. There certainly are high risks to signing a position player to a seven-year contract, let alone a starting pitcher.

Sabathia has been in the Major Leagues for eight seasons. Over that time, he has averaged just about 207 innings per season. Over the last two, he has logged 494 innings pitched and a career high 253 last season. He's never pitched less than 180 innings in a season, and that was in his rookie campaign. To sign a pitcher to a seven-year contract who has already logged that many innings in a young career definitely will make some nervous.

The issue of weight has also come up. Sabathia is listed at 290 pounds on his bio page, and that might be a low end ballpark number. Combine his weight with his workmanlike style of pitching and, again, this is certainly a concern. Will this player break down over the course of this contract? All Yankees fans and the Yankees front office can do is cross their fingers and hope for the best.

Does Sabathia really want to be in New York? One of the major concerns this offseason was that he wanted to play in his home state of California and preferred to stay in the National League. Now Sabathia himself and people close to him are already saying that he wouldn't sign with someone just for money, but he would have to be committed to playing in a place he wanted to be.

Just look at some of the major long term contracts that have been signed by pitchers and not worked out in the end. The Yankees have had two of their own in the last decade. Carl Pavano at four years, and just under $40 million is one deal and Kei Igawa for five years and $20 million, plus the $26 million posting fee.

Other long term contracts that have gone bust for starting pitchers have been:
Mike Hampton, Rockies (2001)
8 Years, $121 Million; 147 Starts (18.4 GS/Season), missed 2006 and 2007 season
Record: 56-52, 891.1 IP, 4.81 ERA Traded to the Marlins and then immediately
to the Braves in 2002

Barry Zito, Giants (2007)
7 Years, $126 Million; 65 Starts (32.5 GS/Season)
Record: 21-30, 376.2 IP, 4.83 ERA

Kevin Brown, Dodgers (1999)
7 Years, $105 Million; 164 Starts (23.4 GS/Season)
Record: 72-45, 1078.0 IP, 3.23 ERA
Traded to the Yankees in 2004

Chan Ho Park, Rangers (2002)
5 Years, $65 Million; 98 Starts (19.6 GS/Season)
Record: 33-33, 563.0 IP, 5.56 ERA
Traded to the Padres in 2005

The Reward
To have a starter at the top of the rotation of Sabathia's caliber creates big matchup concerns for opposing lineups. The one thing the Yankees haven't had since going to the World Series in 2003 is that frontline ace that could matchup against other frontline aces. Now going into a short series the Yankees can throw CC Sabathia and match him up against a Josh Beckett.

Just like the innings logged was a risk, well it certainly is a reward as well. This is a 28-year-old man in the prime of his career that can eat up innings like no other pitcher in baseball and they have him for a long time. If the Yankees need him to pitch a complete game to rest up an overworked bullpen, they can certainly call on him to do that. Sabathia loves to be out on the hill.

The Yankees are getting a pitcher that is gritty and thrives on pitching in big games. Down the stretch last season for the Brewers, he did whatever was asked of him, didn't complain once and pitched like an ace, even on three days' rest. He showed a lot of character in the way he composed himself last season.

This might be a long-term contract on paper, however, the Yankees and Sabathia added a player opt out clause after just three seasons. If he is not happy with life in New York after the 2011 season, he has the option to go anywhere he chooses. This is certainly a positive. If he doesn't want to pitch in New York and is unhappy, what fan would want a player on their team if he does not even want to be there?

Another risk was the long-term contract. Well the Yankees signed a 6 year, $88.5 million contract with Mike Mussina in 2001 that worked out very well. In fact, it worked out so well that they signed him to another two year deal in 2006.

The Yankees' rotation before signing Sabathia was Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, Alfredo Aceves and Phil Hughes. The signing already makes the Yankees rotation more of a force to be reckoned with and from the looks of it, the Yankees are not done tweaking that starting staff.

Only time will tell if this contract was a risk or reward, but once thing is for sure, the Yankees just got themselves a Cy Young pitcher that will make them a lot more competitive in a division where they were the third-best team in 2008.

Joe Auriemma is an Editorial Producer for comments