Offseason Baseball: Sabathia & the Return of the Evil Empire

by Phil Kehres*
Special to iVoryTowerz

So much for building from within. The Evil Empire that is the New York Yankees struck back today after a disappointing 2008 season by signing superstar free agent pitcher C.C. Sabathia. While not yet finalized, ESPN is reporting that the contract will be worth $160 million over seven years, by far the largest contract ever given to a pitcher.

The move reeks of desperation on the part of the Yankees, a team that had seemingly eschewed their typical modus operandi of signing aging stars for mega-dollar contracts. The Sabathia contract is different — C.C. is a 28-year-old stud lefthander in his prime, coming off the two best years of his career. But the signing nonetheless shows that the Yankees’ homegrown youth movement — led by budding stars like pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes and second baseman Robinson Cano — was little more than a clever ruse. The Yankees never had the intention of being anything less than the most extravagant spenders in baseball; they were simply biding their time, waiting for the right players to come along. Sabathia represents the best player to hit the open market in recent years. Regardless, this is a classic Yankees signing. Long contracts for pitchers are always risky. With Sabathia, the Yankees will pay top dollar for a ridiculous number of years to a 300+ pound pitcher (though to C.C.’s credit, he has been relatively injury free) plucked from a small-market team that couldn’t afford him (the Milwaukee Brewers). Risk is irrelevant when you can outspend all 29 other teams.

The Yankees are also said to be pursuing high-profile free agent pitchers Derek Lowe (last team: L.A. Dodgers), A.J. Burnett (Toronto Blue Jays) and Ben Sheets (also the Brewers) in addition to trying to bring back lefty pitcher Andy Pettitte. Any one (or two or three) of those guys should all but ensure the Yankees’ purchased and pre-packaged return to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year for the first time since 1993. It’s the sports equivalent of paying for a Senate seat.

*Phil Kehres is one of the authors of Excuse Me, Is That Your Blog?

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Jeff Siegel said...

Carlos Silva, who is the definition of ordinary, got 4 years and $48 million at the end of last season. Kyle Lohse, who more or less provides the same results as Silva, got 4 years for $41 million at the end of this season.

I'm no fan of the Yankees, but given those numbers, why is Sabathia's deal so evil? The Brewers reportedly offered $20 million a year (though not for as many seasons). You can argue that it's silly or even morally reprehensible to pay a baseball player so much money, but to say that it shows that the Yankees are the spawn of the devil is not right. They paid the market rate, for better or for worse.

Turk said...

In case not everybody knows, this is Phil (Turk is my blogger profile as of now).

Jeff, my beef with the Yankees is twofold basically. One, given all the nonsense that we've heard from Cashman and the Steinbrenners over the past few years about the homegrown "young core" of the Yankees, it is incredibly disingenuous of them to then go out and spend an astronomical amount of money to sign CC. As I said in the post, I feel the Yankees never intended to fully commit to the homegrown model but were simply throwing (mud) at the wall to see if anything would stick until the big names became free agents. Shrewd fans could have seen this coming by recognizing that none of the Yankees homegrown prospects were all they were hyped to be.

Two, this isn't a case of the Yankees paying the market rate. This is the Yankees seeing a very generous offer, like Milwaukee's 5/$100mm and blowing that out of the water to make sure no one else could come close.

I definitely agree with your sentiments about Silva and Lohse, and I'm not saying the Yankees are the only team engaging in this sort of activity. But the Yankees are the absolute undisputed champions of this realm, paving the way for the Seattles and Detroits of the world to throw absurd dollar amounts at mediocre players in hopes of competing with the big boys. It's almost a trickle-down effect, and it's plaguing the whole sport.

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