With their double-barreled checkbooks and convincing speeches too much to ignore, CC Sabathia has decided to become the new staff ace of the New York Yankees. The left-hander will be handsomely compensated for his commitment, agreeing Wednesday to sign the richest contract of any pitcher in Major League history.
Ready to flex their financial muscle at a time when many other clubs have turned a cautious eye to the bottom line, the Yankees rescued a languishing winter by procuring their No. 1 target, bolstering their rotation by adding the top starter on the open market.
With negotiations stalled for weeks, the clincher was executed in clandestine and dramatic fashion. Given quick notice, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman abandoned his schedule at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas and boarded a flight for Sabathia's home in California, meeting with the hurler for the third time in three days.
The extra effort paid off. A source familiar with the situation confirmed that Sabathia, the 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner, relayed to Cashman early Wednesday morning that he intends to accept the Yankees' offer and wear pinstripes for the upcoming season and beyond.
Cashman said that he could not discuss the reports of an agreement because it had not yet been finalized, but a baseball official confirmed that the parameters are set and that Sabathia has accepted the offer in principle.
An official announcement will not be made until numerous items can be completed, most prominently the passing of a physical examination, but no issues are anticipated in the agreement. For the Yankees, Sabathia represents the man they had wanted all along.
"CC is left-handed, a tremendous competitor, and his talent is obvious," Cashman said. "He matches that with his character at the same time. That's obviously why we've been extremely interested in bringing him in the fold."
An additional season and $20 million, authorized by Hal Steinbrenner and offered in the final minutes, sweetened the package. The deal now represents a record-setting seven-year pact for about $161 million, adding to the original offer presented to Sabathia on Nov. 14, which was reported to be for $140 million over six years.
With a new Yankee Stadium rising across 161st Street in the Bronx and set to open in just a matter of months, the organization is free to begin stitching a size XXL jersey and preparing to watch the prized addition pitch on Opening Day 2009.
"You get very excited about it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think you stay a little bit reserved because there's still things that have to be done. But you do get excited about it, because it's a guy that we talked about that we were going to pursue very heavily all along."
Reports on Wednesday afternoon said the package is worth $161 million and will include a buyout clause that will give Sabathia the right to opt out after three years. The opt-out clause helped to satisfy concerns Sabathia and his family had about living in New York.
A person familiar with the Yankees' thinking and early-morning maneuvers told MLB.com that the club extended its offer to Sabathia from six to seven years at about 3 a.m. ET on Wednesday. The Yankees had no trepidation in offering a seventh year to Sabathia, and Sabathia's agent, Greg Genske, later finalized the dollar and year amounts with Cashman.
Regarding his trip to Sabathia's home in Vallejo, Calif., Cashman said, "When the opportunity was given, that's a flight I had to take."
Genske informed Brewers general manager Doug Melvin via telephone early Wednesday morning that while "there are a lot of things to do yet, it looks like it's going to take place," and that Milwaukee would no longer be considered as a return destination. The Brewers' ambitious offer was surpassed by two years and approximately $61 million.
"Once the Yankees got involved, we knew what we were up against," Melvin said. "We were hoping that maybe we were close enough that [Sabathia] might have reconsidered, but he got a very good deal. That would have been hard for him to walk away from."
As for the impact the agreement might have on other Yankees plans, a source said that the team believes it can top the Braves' offer to right-hander A.J. Burnett if it is for five years at $15 million per year, and that the Yankees' interest in first baseman Mark Teixeira has waned.
|1||A. Rodriguez||NYY||10 yrs ('08-17)||$275,000,000|
|2||A. Rodriguez||TEX||10 yrs ('01-10)||$252,000,000|
|3||Derek Jeter||NYY||10 years ('01-10)||$189,000,000|
|4||M. Ramírez||BOS||8 yrs ('01-08)||$160,000,000|
|5||M. Cabrera||DET||8 yrs ('08-15)||$152,300,000|
|6||Todd Helton||COL||11 yrs (2001-11)||$151,500,000|
|7||J. Santana||NYM||6 yrs ('08-13)||$137,500,000|
|8||A. Soriano||CHC||8 yrs ('07-14)||$136,000,000|
|9||Vernon Wells||TOR||7 yrs ('08-14)||$126,000,000|
|9||Barry Zito||SF||7 yrs ('07-13)||$126,000,000|
|11||Mike Hampton||COL||8 yrs ('01-08)||$121,000,000|
|12||Jason Giambi||NYY||7 yrs ('02-08)||$120,000,000|
|13||Carlos Beltrán||NYM||7 yrs ('05-11)||$119,000,000|
|14||K. Griffey Jr.||CIN||9 yrs ('00-08)||$116,500,000|
|15||Kevin Brown||LAD||7 yrs ('99-2005)||$105,000,000|
|16||Albert Pujols||STL||7 yrs ('04-10)||$100,000,000|
|16||Carlos Lee||HOU||6 yrs ('07-12)||$100,000,000|
After meeting twice in Las Vegas, the final rendezvous in the Bay Area was made with attention to the concerns of Sabathia's wife, Amber, and their three children, who will likely relocate to New York during the season. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter also helped alleviate concerns about the city lifestyle in conversations with Sabathia last month.
"You can stay out there six months in the offseason and still be a West Coast guy, right?" Jeter said. "I think one of the questions that a lot of people have when you come to New York is they have families that don't necessarily want to live in the city. There's a lot of different places you can live."
In Las Vegas, Yankees officials were privately optimistic late Tuesday that discussions with Sabathia had taken a positive turn since Cashman had again been invited back. The GM rapidly cleared his schedule.
Cashman, Girardi and special advisor Reggie Jackson met with Sabathia and Genske for approximately two hours at the Wynn Hotel on Sunday. Jackson took the lead in those discussions, representing a Bay Area product who went on to stardom in New York and looks back upon his Yankees time fondest.
Cashman was then invited back on Monday, answering follow-up questions in a meeting of less than one hour with Genske present. Then came Tuesday's meeting, which resulted in the Yankees landing the biggest pitching prize of the Winter Meetings.
Sabathia, 117-73 in eight big league seasons, will bring something to the Yankees that they haven't had in three decades: a relatively youthful pitcher at the top of their rotation. At 28 years old, Sabathia will be the first prominent Yankees ace under 30 since Ron Guidry, another left-hander, in the late 1970s.
New York had pitchers in their 20s, notably Dennis Rasmussen and Melido Perez, at the top of its rotations during losing seasons in the early '90s, and one could argue that Chien-Ming Wang, currently 28, was the Yankees' "ace" in 2006 and 2007.
But Sabathia clearly represents something different. Traded to the Brewers by the Indians on July 7, the left-hander almost singlehandedly carried Milwaukee to its first postseason berth in 26 years by going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts.
He lost his only start in the playoffs, lasting 3 2/3 innings in a 5-2 loss to the Phillies. The Brewers lost the best-of-five National League Division Series in four games.
A Sabathia signing gives the Yankees the bona fide ace that many, including Girardi, have lobbied for, but it does not complete their winter shopping list. The Yankees have spoken optimistically about landing two of their top choices, if not three.
"We have a need to improve our rotation, and it's not just one," Cashman said. "It's more than one. My intent this winter is to try to improve the club any way I possibly can, but the main focus is going to be the rotation."
That leaves the door open to a full-bore pursuit of free-agent right-handers A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe and Ben Sheets, and to the future of Andy Pettitte, who remains unsigned. As of the moment, the Yankees' only signed starters projected to be in the rotation come Opening Day are Wang and Joba Chamberlain.
"I think any time you can have a guy like CC, Chien-Ming Wang and Chamberlain, you can add to your rotation," Girardi said. "You want to have five guys that can go out there every day and give you innings, and that you know can shut teams down. That's the ultimate rotation and that's what Brian and our organization are looking for."
The Yankees met with Burnett's representative at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. With teams circling his client, Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, acknowledged that "just overall, the process is starting to advance."
The Yankees do not appear fazed by the Braves' interest in Burnett, with Atlanta prepared to supply Burnett with a four-year, $60 million contract containing a vesting option for the 2013 season. In fact, the Yankees may even be primed to top that dollar amount by surpassing the annual value of the pact.
The Yankees and Phillies have emerged as the two most prominent contenders for Lowe, according to reports. The Yankees are said to have prepared a four-year offer with a possible vesting option for a fifth year for the 35-year-old former Dodger, who has won 106 games in seven seasons since the Red Sox converted him from closer to starter in 2002.
Late on Monday, Cashman and Girardi met with Sheets and his agent, Casey Close.
"I thought that was a good meeting," Girardi said. "Obviously, I faced Ben Sheets when I was with the Cubs and have admired the work that he's done over the years. It was good to talk to him about his health, his routines, what he likes to do. He was a very open young man and he was impressive."
The New York Daily News reported on Tuesday that the Yankees are preparing to offer Sheets a multiyear deal believed to be for two years and about $30 million. The offer was expected to be made before the Meetings wrap up on Thursday.
Sheets is 86-83 in his career with a 3.73 ERA, but has missed significant time due to injury in four of his eight seasons in the Major Leagues, all with the Brewers.
Pettitte, who has spent 11 of his 14 seasons with the Yankees, is a free agent and has openly said that he wishes to return. But there has been only minimal contact between the team and the 36-year-old left-hander, who went 14-14 last season but is 215-127 in his career.
Sabathia, a first-round Draft pick in 1998, burst upon the scene less than three years later, going 17-5 in his rookie season. He had success, but without impressive records, for the next four seasons, going 52-40 with a 4.03 ERA while recording double digits in losses three times.
However, in 2006, he began to show the results of a dominant pitcher, lowering his ERA to 3.21 and reaching a career high in strikeouts with 172. He went 12-11, but the Indians were 78-84 and finished fourth in the AL Central that season.
In 2007, Sabathia pitched 241 innings, by far a career high, and went 19-7 while boosting his strikeout total to 209. Cleveland won the AL Central and Sabathia won the Cy Young. Those career highs were extended this past season, as he struck out 251 batters in 253 innings.