Speculation continues to mount as to whether or not C.C. Sabathia will return to the Bronx next season. Both Harold Reynolds of the MLB Network and ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine have commented during their respective television spots recently that the large left-hander may choose to opt out of his contract and look to pitch elsewhere. Sabathia, whose Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs following last night’s 3-2 loss in the ALDS to Detroit, has given no indication as of yet whether he will exercise his option or not. This does raise the question, however, as to where C.C. would fit best in 2012. Let’s take a look at some of his options:
- Boston Red Sox- Coming off the heels of September’s nuclear meltdown of apocalyptic proportion, Boston may look to make a significant staff upgrade. Change is unmistakably in the air at the Fens. Manager Terry Francona is out, GM Theo Epstein may be next. The uncertainty in flux at the top of the Red Sox chain-of-command could steer C.C. into another direction, so hiring the right pair of managerial candidates is tantamount in continuing to lure A-list free agents to Beantown. Boston is never without money, and this season was never without pitching needs. Sabathia stands tall at the top of any rotation, and with questions concerning the ability of John Lester and Josh Beckett to rebound back to All-Star form and Clay Bucholtz to come back to full strength following season-long injury, the addition of C.C. would allow the Sox some wiggle room as their rotation rounds back into shape. Letting Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathon Papelbon and John Lackey “pitch” elsewhere opens some dollars to play with though swallowing three more years of Lackey and one more year of Daisuke’s contracts would be a challenge. Boston may be better off giving Andrew Miller arbitration, moving Alfredo Aceves into the rotation where he belongs, coaxing another year out of Grandpa Wakefield and resist their temptation to throw good money after bad.
- Chicago Cubs- Speaking of Theo Epstein, the Sox General Manager could be on his way to Wrigley. What better way to make a splash than to bring in the Yankee ace? There is money to play with on Chicago’s north side, as rumors of adding Albert Pujols have been swirling around Clark and Addison since March. The Cubs are sure to let self-explosive Carlos Zambrano walk, and the 31-year-old Sabathia would be a more-than-suitable replacement, as well as the third youngest starter in the rotation as it is currently constructed. Finishing twenty games under .500 in 2011 has exposed many gaping holes on the Cubs roster. At first glance starting pitching may appear to be secondary to their offensive needs, but the Cubs actually finished just above league average in OPS and right at league average in runs scored. Pitching, however, was a huge concern. Chicago’s ERA+ of 90 was 10 percent worse than the league as whole and ranked 14th out of 16 teams. Ideally, bringing in both Pujols and Sabathia would be a bonanza for whoever takes over as GM, but adding the 40 to 50 extra million dollars for just two men in their thirties would be unheard of. Moves of this magnitude would stamp the Cubs as serious about contending in 2012, but could haunt them a year or two later. With much younger talent in Milwaukee and Cincinnati, as well as Pittsburgh being on the come, adding expensive aging players for the long-term would not be prudent in the NL Central.
Sabathia finished the 2008 season in Milwaukee following a trade with Cleveland in late June. All he did was go 11-2 down the stretch, putting the infant Brewer lineup on his back and carrying them to the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. That’s easy to do when you post a 255 ERA+ as he did that summer. (For the uninitiated, 100 is league average. Therefore, C.C.’s park adjust era was 155 percent (!) better than the league’s.) Had he pitched in Milwaukee the entire season, he certainly would have finished higher than 5th in the NL Cy Young ballot that year. So why not go back for a five or six year encore and head an already stellar staff that includes Zach Greinke, Yavoni Gallardo and Shaun Marcum? It may boil down to the Prince Fielder factor. Fielder is indeed the Prince of Milwaukee and currently has the Brew Crew on the brink of the NLCS. Along with Ryan Braun they are as formidable a three-four punch as any in the National League. However, Fielder is also a free agent and looks to clean up rather nicely on whatever scraps Albert Pujols leaves behind. Milwaukee has money, but often chooses not to spend it. It remains to be seen if they will pony up for Fielder. If they don’t pay one of the best players in franchise history while he is entering his prime, many would wonder why any other free agent would want be subjected to the same disinterest? If the Brewers want players like Sabathia, they have to resign Fielder. But doing so paints them in a tremendous financial corner for a franchise that is considered medium market. It’s the prototypical Kobayashi Maru. The Brewers are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
- Philadelphia Phillies- Let Ryan Madson’s and Roy Oswalt’s contracts expire this year and Joe Blanton’s the next. Move Antonio Bastardo to closer. Add Sabathia to Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Create the most feared staff of all-time. Enjoy.
- Los Angeles Dodgers- If Sabathia were to leave New York, the Dodgers would be the favorite for his services. A native of Vallejo, California, C.C. has mentioned a desire to pitch on the west coast in the past. His last free agency period saw him express a curiosity towards getting more of a chance to swing the bat (.627 career OPS, not bad for a pitcher). Put the two together and the Dodgers are more than on the radar. There are concerns, though, about the team’s much-maligned, much-talked-about financial future. A team struggling to send out paychecks to players they currently have has no feasible means of adding a contract the size Sabathia is looking for. Or do they? Keeping the Dodgers relevant should be the MLB’s number one off-season concern. This is a franchise steeped in history in a major market that is aching for a return to prominence. Los Angeles is a Lakers town. It’s becoming an Angels town. It used to be- and needs to be- a Dodgers town. Adding Sabathia would be the engine that gets the Matt Kemp-Clayton Kershaw train back on track. The MVP and Cy Young front-runners need help around them. Sabathia is more than help. He would be the souped-up engine on this old classic. If the Texas Rangers can add payroll while MLB was controlling them, the Dodgers can do the same. The only thing standing in the way is Frank McCourt’s credit rating.
- Los Angeles Angels- If C.C. wants to stay in the American League where he has spent all but four months of his 11 seasons, all the while returning home to southern California, then the Angels are the obvious choice. He would fit nicely along with Jered Weaver at the top of the rotation, giving LAA the left-handed arm they so sorely need. Dan Haren would be one of the better third-starters in the AL and the same could be said about Ervin Santana in the fourth spot. He would have the added privilege of pitching in a pitcher’s park for the first time in his career. (Angel stadium had a park factor of 93 in 2011. Anything under 100 favors pitchers.) He would rack up more starts against weaker divisional opponents in Oakland and Seattle (also pitchers parks). Sabathia could provide an answer to the potent Ranger lineup, too, as he went 2-0 against Texas this season, but he would have to improve upon his rate stats against the Rangers. If numbers are important to C.C. then Anaheim is the place for him. Can the Angels afford him is the question? Artie Moreno is normally efficient with his money, but last season’s trade to bring in the $21 million per season albatross, Vernon Wells suggests otherwise. Money like that would be better spent on Sabathia, but getting rid of Wells to free up the funds will be impossible. No one besides Los Angeles wanted him last year. He did nothing this season to up the market.
Trading for Ubaldo Jimenez at the trade deadline this season was not a desperate move for Cleveland. It was an absolutely necessary move. The Indians were contenders for three quarters of the season and their best pitcher, Justin Masterson, was the only starter with an ERA+ over the league average. A full year of Jimenez (if he returns to early 2010 form) gives them starter number two. A return home by Sabathia would push Masterson and Jimenez to the two and three slots in the rotation where they belong, and gives the Indians the ace they’ve lacked since…well…since Sabathia left in ’08.
- Kansas City Royals- Haha. Yeah, right.
- Washington Nationals- This is purely a hunch. The Nats have young talent with more on the way (Bryce Harper) and are on the verge of something big in the nation’s capital. Stephen Strasburg’s late-season return has proven his arm should bounce back to its pre-Tommy John surgery frightening level. If that’s the case, he is starter number one. Jordan Zimmerman is a capable front-line guy as well. Even John Lannan was a better-than-average pitcher and could be even more effective in the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. What they are missing is another arm on top, preferably a lefty like Sabathia. Prior to last season, Washington’s willingness to spend money on top-tier free agents could have been called into question, but the 2011 addition of Jayson Werth to the outfield at 7-years/$126 million changed all that. Doing the same for Sabathia this offseason would vault the .500 Nationals into the same category as the Braves as challengers to Philadelphia in the NL East.
- New York Yankees- On second thought who are we kidding? He’s not going anywhere.