With a lot of people expecting him to exercise his opt-out clause, and with the decision deadline fast approaching, Monday night CC Sabathia agreed to a contract extension with the New York Yankees. The extension will be worth either $30 million over one year or $50 million over two, tacked to the end of his original deal that expired after 2015, and so Sabathia has been locked up before he ever had a chance to hit the market.
Sabathia should be pretty happy. Though he might have wanted more money - athletes usually want more money - it's not like he signed for a pittance, and he guaranteed himself more time. He got himself a minimum of one extra year in New York, and, if he's healthy, he got himself a minimum of two. That opt-out clause effectively turned his seven-year contract into an eight- or nine-year contract.
But forget about Sabathia's side for a moment. Sabathia loves being where he is. That's great. Let's talk about the Yankees, though. What does this deal mean for them now, and what does it mean for them down the road?
In the immediate future, this deal changes ... well, this deal doesn't really change anything. Yes, there existed some threat that Sabathia would opt out. And yes, there existed some threat that, once Sabathia was a free agent, some other team would come at him with piles of money and manage to sign him away. This outcome was not impossible.
But it was highly unlikely, and it's been highly unlikely all along. The overwhelming odds were always that Sabathia would stay with the Yankees, and so the fact that Sabathia is staying with the Yankees is surprising to no one. Even as the opt-out decision deadline loomed, Yankees fans and officials could all but count on Sabathia leading the team's rotation in 2012.
So that's simple. Now we shift to the future and we'll begin with a fun fact. Following are the three Yankees players under contract until or through 2016, along with their 2016 salaries:
That comes out to a total 2016 commitment of just under $70 million. The Yankees already have a higher 2016 payroll than ten teams had in 2011. The Yankees already have a higher 2016 payroll than any team had in 1997. It sounds really powerful and insane until you remember, oh yeah, inflation, but it's still a neat little bit of time-sensitive trivia.
So the Yankees have Sabathia under contract for another five or six years. In each of those years, they will pay him a lot of money. How much can they possibly expect? The Yankees will point to the fact that Sabathia has been on the disabled list once in his whole career, with an oblique strain. Oblique strains aren't too terribly worrisome. I mean, they're worrisome when they happen, but they aren't as worrisome for pitchers as a history of elbow or shoulder problems. Sabathia has been as durable as anybody over the course of his career, which would seem to bode well for the future.
But you could also argue the opposite - that Sabathia has put a ton of miles on his body - and we don't know which argument would be more correct, because this kind of thing tends to come down to guesswork and witchcraft. What we know is that CC Sabathia is a pitcher, and that, given enough time, a lot of pitchers break down.
Sabathia's had a couple offseason knee surgeries. His body isn't getting any younger, and obviously he's not in phenomenal shape. It's more than a little curious that the Yankees tied his 2017 vesting option to the health of his shoulder, although I suppose that could be nothing.
Sabathia could be fine. Sabathia could be as durable for the next half-decade as he's been for the last half-decade. But the odds are against that, and the Yankees would be wise to assume that he'll hit some speed bumps.
And, of course, it isn't just about health. Health and performance overlap, but they don't overlap completely, and in five years, Sabathia will be 36. Will he still be CC Sabathia when he's 36, or will he be a worse pitcher with the same name? Randy Johnson was as good in his mid- to late-30s as he was in his early-30s, but there's a reason Randy Johnson is remembered as an absolute freak. There are two reasons, I guess - he was very unattractive - but he was also an exception.
Ultimately, these are concerns that could be raised about just about any pitcher. You can never really know what a pitcher's going to be five or six years down the road, and it is more encouraging than not that Sabathia has stayed so healthy for so long so far. Additionally, it's not like the Yankees had much of a choice, here - because they gave Sabathia an opt-out clause in his original contract, they had to figure something like this could happen. For the Yankees, it's better to have Sabathia for the next five or six years than to be stubborn about the fifth year and watch him go away.
But the longer you go with Sabathia - the longer you go with any player - the greater the risk. It's an obvious statement. It makes for an unsatisfying conclusion. It's just the only reasonable conclusion. Monday night, CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees agreed to a contract extension, but Sabathia's the only side that got a guarantee.