"We had a ton of meetings about it," Cashman said. "It was not an easy decision, to be honest, between him and Nova. Ultimately we made the final decision. CC's got it for now."
The former Cy Young Award winner is entering his 16th year in the Majors and eighth with the Yankees. He owns a 214-129 career record and an ERA of 3.69 through 452 Big League games. Sabathia made 29 starts for New York in 2015, going 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the team considered alternating Nova and Sabathia in the spot, based on the opponent, and Cashman said that he could not say how long Sabathia's leash would be.
"Listen, when you're in the fifth spot, I think any fifth starter in the game has a shorter leash," Cashman said. "Hopefully, that was the right call and hopefully he'll do well and pitch well for us."
Girardi said a large part of the decision hinged upon Sabathia's final five starts of last season, when he posted a 2.17 ERA with the help of a protective knee brace.
"Let's not forget what he did last September, so we're hoping he continues off that," Girardi said. "We talked a lot about how it's hard to judge older players in Spring Training. It is. I believe it takes them a long time and when you're established, they haven't had that mindset of, 'I've got to compete for a spot.'"
Nova posted a 4.13 ERA over six Grapefruit League starts. His last outing was Wednesday, when he pitched six scoreless innings against the Braves.
"I'll try to use him a lot of different ways, but the big thing is I've got to make sure he's prepared and has plenty of time to warm up," Girardi said.
Cashman said that the disparity in the players' contracts had "nothing, zero," to do with the decision; Sabathia is earning $25 million this season while Nova will be paid $4.1 million.
"The money he makes has nothing to do with it now," Cashman said. "He made that money based on performance in years gone by. Now it's about who's going to give us the best chance to win as we move forward every five days. ... It's not an obvious, slam dunk decision. The calendar forced us to make a decision between the two and we made it."