Is Yankees' CC Sabathia Really Thinking About Opting Out Of Contract?

Maybe this would be a story only in New York. But on a day when there's not much news and CC Sabathia doesn't expressly spurn the possibility that he'll opt out of his contract after this season, it's definitely a story. Joel Sherman was there when it happened (via The New York Post):

CC Sabathia has made a subtle shift in tone that could be a preview of a more devastating setback to the Yankees rotation next offseason than the team suffered this offseason with Cliff Lee going to the Phillies and Andy Pettitte retiring.

Sabathia has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season and, in the past, he always definitively said he would not use that clause to negotiate another free-agent contract with either the Yankees or another team.

--snip--

But in a one-on-one conversation with The Post afterward, Sabathia was given a few chances to definitively say he would not opt out -- as he had previously -- and did not. On one occasion he said, "Anything is possible in a contract." In another, the big lefty said, "Who knows what is possible, but I am not thinking about anything beyond Opening Day."

--snip--

The Yankees have not made any contact with Sabathia or his agent about re-working his contract. It's the Yankees policy not to make contact until a player becomes a free agent.

"We wouldn't expect him to say anthing else," one Yankees official said.

Sabathia would have incredible leverage both on the Yankees and in the marketplace if he were to opt out. The best starters due to be free agents next year are C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, which is hardly stellar.

Well, that's a point. And you can hardly blame Sabathia for milking the Yankees for every last possible dollar. I don't think the Yankees would even blame him for that.

My only question is how many more millions of dollars he figures to milk.

While Cliff Lee will make $25 million from 2013 through '15, and -- barring major injury or contract extension -- another $27.5 million in 2016, he's making "only" $11 million this year and $21.5 million next year. The Average Annual Value (AAV) of Lee's deal is $24 million. (Oh, and Roy Halladay's AAV is only $20 million.)

Johan Santana's AAV with the Mets is slightly lower, $22.9 million.

And Sabathia? His seven-year, $161 million deal works out to a $23 million AAV.

None of this is coincidental. Essentially, the franchises with bulging wallets have decided, over the last couple of years anyway, that the very best pitchers -- with Halladay excepted -- are worth roughly $24 million on the open market. Almost exactly what Sabathia's slated to earn in each of the next five seasons.

Will he quibble over a lousy million bucks? Is he merely angling to earn one dollar more than Cliff Lee, and become the game's best-paid pitcher?

I doubt it. If anything, I think he's angling for bigger fish. Why settle for earning $25,000,001 per season when you could earn $26 million? $27 million? Who knows? It's not like the Yankees won't be able to afford it. And whether they finish in first place or third this season, they'll probably be desperate for a starting pitcher next season.

I think Sabathia's weight loss this winter might be a factor here, too. He might be figuring, "If I was worth $23 million when I was a Cap'n Crunch-eating, soda-pop-drinking slob, what am I worth now?" His knee is presumably healthier now, too.

According to FanGraphs, Sabathia's real value to his teams from 2007 through '9 was roughly $30 million per season. Do you think his agents don't look at FanGraphs? Granted, last season he was worth just $20 million. But it's not crazy to think that 2011 will be more like 2009 than 2010. In which case, why should he volunteer to continue being underpaid?

If you're the Yankees, there's no reason to panic, for the simple reason that it won't help anything. If Sabathia's pitching brilliantly in June, perhaps you approach his agents about restructuring the deal. Or perhaps you just wait until next winter.

One thing is true, though ... Considering their options next winter, it must be scary for the Yankees and their fans to consider a 2012 rotation that doesn't include the big guy. Right now, he's in a really good spot. All he has to do is pitch like he used to.

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