Dan Mennella at MLB Trade Rumors noted the following yesterday:
Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia has shed 30 pounds this offseason in an effort to reduce the load on his surgically repaired right knee, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Typically, we don’t get too excited over this sort of Spring Training cliche, as we’re bound to hear quite a bit about who’s in shape and who’s not over the next couple weeks, but 30 pounds is a lot of weight, and we’re especially mindful of the opt-out clause in Sabathia’s contract after the 2011 campaign. If he’s healthy and has a big season, Sabathia could be in for another big payday next offseason.
Health seems very important to this equation. Sabathia is owed $23 million per year from 2011 until 2015. That means if he opts out, he leaves $92 million dollars over 4 seasons on the table. He will be 31 years old.
If Sabathia has another Cy Young-caliber season, it will no doubt be the correct economic decision for him to exercise his opt-out clause and try to earn similar money over more years on the open market. Cliff Lee, a highly comparable, if slightly less able, pitcher earned $120 million over 5 years, despite being a full year older than Sabathia will be after 2011. And Lee actually turned down quite a bit of money to settle with the Phillies. I don’t think its unreasonable to expect Sabathia to attract offers in the 6 / $150 range after another year of baseball inflation. Opting out could make him roughly $50 million dollars richer, or more.
Very few players in the history of baseball have ever left that much money on the table for any reason. Lee turned down $28 million to return to the Phillies, and Gil Meche left $12 million on the table to retire, but if Sabathia chooses not to opt-out, he would be passing up the opportunity to earn quite a bit of money.
Of course, Sabathia insists that he will not opt-out of his contract. And he may have such a strong feeling of loyalty to the Yankees and New York that he chooses to stay put. But really, does anyone believe him?
Now, Moshe and others would probably chime in right now and say that the Yankees could benefit from Sabathia opting out. The Yankees got him for his age 28-30 seasons, and would be on the hook for the beginning of his decline years at a high price. There’s some merit to this argument, but I don’t think we should follow it down that path. A free agent ace starting pitcher costs a lot of money, and requires the team to take on significant risk, in today’s market. The Yankees have the money to spend, and Sabathia is as good a guy as there is out there to spend money on. While 36 years old is by no means young, most players haven’t yet completely broken down by the time they reach that age. The odds are that Sabathia will continue to be productive for the majority of his contract.
If Sabathia opts out, the Yankees have some choices. They can resign him at an exorbitant price, or look elsewhere. Elsewhere theoretically includes the fairly weak 2012 free agent market for starting pitchers, the farm system, or a trade. None of these options presents itself with a near-term ace-caliber pitcher to carry the team through the playoffs and to the World Series. If another 28 year-old ace was available on the free agent market, The Yankees would be smart to go and pay him, and let Sabathia bring his risky early 30s to another team. But he is no, so I fear that the end conclusion will be that Sabathia opts out and the Yankees are forced to pay him a lot more money than they currently are. Alex Rodriguez de ja vu here we come. Please Cashman, no more opt-out clauses.