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CC Sabathia’s Opt-Out: The Worst Yankees Contract?

CC Sabathia (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

CC Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the New York Yankees three seasons ago. He has been by far the Yankees best starting pitcher over that stretch, led them to a World Series win and has literally been worth every penny he has peen paid so far. But, the Yankees signed him to a terrible contract.

How can I call it a terrible contract? Because it has an opt-out clause after this season. Yes, this season: three years into a seven-year deal.

How did we get here?

The Yankees say it is because he had fears about pitching in New York. Yes, that’s probably true, but this clause was just silly, as it could have only helped him. There are three scenarios on how CC’s experience in New York could have gone:

  1. He pitches well and hates it here. I don’t think this was possible. Sorry, but there is no way you succeed in New York and don’t like it.
  2. He pitches poorly or gets injured. In this scenario, it doesn’t matter whether or not he likes New York. There is no way he would opt-out. He would presumably make a lot less money if he pitched bad or was injured, so he would stay in his contract.
  3. He pitches well and likes it. This is what actually happened. Problem for the Yankees is that he is going to opt-out anyway. He can get more money and can still (most likely…hopefully?) stay in New York. Why wouldn’t he opt-out? It’s just a sound business decision.

When Cliff Lee signed a contract for $120 million over five years with the Phillies last offseason, it became obvious that Sabathia would exercise his opt-out clause. Sabathia has been slightly more consistent than Lee in the regular season in his career, and has pitched just about as well in the postseason. He is also two years younger than Lee, and his huge body is better built to hold up in the long run.  If he opts-out, he is going to get some serious Cliff Lee-type offers.  Most teams won’t even be able to afford him, but the few that can will make runs at him, even if only to push up his price in order to force the Yankees to pay more.  How do I know the Yankees will be desperate and willing to pay just about anything? Because AJ Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Phil Highes and Ivan Nova are their other five starting pitchers.  That’s how I know.

A Rich History… of Bad Contracts

The Yankees have made plenty of bad singings over the years. They signed Carl Pavano to a four-year, $40 million contract, during which he totaled 26 starts. They also still pay Kei Igawa $4 million a year to pitch for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees, after signing him to a five-year deal in 2007.  He only managed 13 starts for the them at the major-league level.

But, CC’s contract is a mistake of a completely different kind. The Yankees pissing money away on players that don’t pan out is pretty common, but giving a guy a break like this? It is one on the most un-Yankee like things I have ever seen.

A lot of things have changed since the retirement and passing of George Steinbrenner. Since his sons Hank and Hal took over the day-to-day operations of the organization in 2007, the Yankees haven’t been quite the same as the team I grew up with. Yes, they won a World Series and signed a set-up man (Rafael Soriano) to a $35 million contract, but they also lost out on Cliff Lee, gave Derek Jeter a bunch of trouble before re-signing him and gave CC and opt-out clause. it’s an opt-out clause that could leave them without a capable number 3 starter, let alone an ace.

When the Yankees are negotiating a $150 million contract with Sabathia this offseason, I know I’ll be thinking about George Steinbrenner, and how he would never have allowed this to happen.

About Jason Damiano

I am a New York sports fan through and through, as I was born and raised a Yankees, Giants and Knicks fan. I currently reside in Manhattan, and I have an educational background in engineering. This gives me a slightly different perspective than most journalists. I write for and, and you can follow me on Twitter @Jdsports313.

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2 comments for “CC Sabathia’s Opt-Out: The Worst Yankees Contract?”

  1. New Post: CC Sabathia’s Opt-Out: The Worst Yankees Contract?

    Posted by Sports of New York | August 24, 2011, 4:02 am
  2. My take on CC's opt-out for @sportsofnewyork

    Posted by Jason Damiano | August 24, 2011, 11:54 am

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