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What kind of contract would you give CC Sabathia?

If the Yankees left-hander were suddenly on the open market, what kind of contract would you feel comfortable with your favorite team offering?

Ezra Shaw

CC Sabathia has thrown 200 innings or more in each of the last six seasons. His highest ERA in that time was 3.38; his lowest ERA+ was 123. To put that in perspective, here's a list of pitchers who have done that as often in the expansion era:

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Roger Clemens 14 1986 2005 23-42 Ind. Seasons
2 Tom Seaver 12 1967 1985 22-40 Ind. Seasons
3 Greg Maddux 11 1989 2001 23-35 Ind. Seasons
4 Gaylord Perry 11 1964 1978 25-39 Ind. Seasons
5 Bert Blyleven 10 1971 1989 20-38 Ind. Seasons
6 Randy Johnson 9 1993 2004 29-40 Ind. Seasons
7 Mike Mussina 9 1992 2008 23-39 Ind. Seasons
8 Tom Glavine 9 1991 2002 25-36 Ind. Seasons
9 Jim Palmer 9 1970 1982 24-36 Ind. Seasons
10 Bob Gibson 9 1961 1972 25-36 Ind. Seasons
11 Roy Halladay 8 2002 2011 25-34 Ind. Seasons
12 Mark Buehrle 8 2001 2011 22-32 Ind. Seasons
13 Phil Niekro 8 1967 1984 28-45 Ind. Seasons
14 Fergie Jenkins 8 1967 1978 24-35 Ind. Seasons
15 Curt Schilling 7 1992 2004 25-37 Ind. Seasons
16 John Smoltz 7 1989 2007 22-40 Ind. Seasons
17 Juan Marichal 7 1963 1969 25-31 Ind. Seasons
18 CC Sabathia 6 2007 2012 26-31 Ind. Seasons
19 Roy Oswalt 6 2002 2010 24-32 Ind. Seasons
20 Pedro Martinez 6 1997 2005 25-33 Ind. Seasons
21 Kevin Brown 6 1996 2003 31-38 Ind. Seasons
22 Kevin Appier 6 1991 1997 23-29 Ind. Seasons
23 Dave Stieb 6 1982 1990 24-32 Ind. Seasons
24 Jerry Koosman 6 1968 1979 25-36 Ind. Seasons
25 Luis Tiant 6 1967 1978 26-37 Ind. Seasons

It's the names that don't show up that are more surprising. There's no Johan Santana, David Cone, or Tim Hudson on that list. Heck, there's no Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, or Sandy Koufax on that list. And that's for 200 IP/120 ERA+ seasons over a full career. Sabathia did his in a row. Yep, seems like there's no one in baseball more consistent than CC Sabathia.

Counterpoint: He's kind of bad now. Or, at least, he's having a bad season. And if you want more glum news, note that the highest ERA, lowest ERA+, and lowest innings-pitched total all came last season. There's a trend if you squint, and it's not encouraging.

The villain early in the season appeared to be reduced velocity, but he's getting that back. He's been back to his 2012 velocity over his last 10 starts, touching 93 and above several times. This has helped him complete one of the worst three-game stretches of his career. It was a nice theory, at least.

The point of all this isn't to catch you up on the comings and goings of CC Sabathia. It's to ask a question. In the grand tradition of "What kind of contract would you give Albert Pujols right now?" and "What kind of contract would you give Josh Hamilton right now?", let's turn our attention to Sabathia's deal. Just how much does he have left?

2014 (age 33): $23 million
2015 (34): $23 million
2016 (35): $25 million
2017 (36): $25 million vesting option contingent upon the health of his right shoulder, with a $5 million buyout

Well, that's not exactly good news for the Yankees, but it wasn't quite as bad as I thought. And I had the perfect "Cathy" panel ready for my reaction, too. But it's not a small amount, and Sabathia probably wouldn't get anything close to that kind of contract again if he were magically a free agent after the season ended. Certainly not an annual basis.

So how much would you want your team to sign him for? Before you answer, revisit that list of 25 pitchers up there. Remember the criteria for the list is over a full career, not consecutive seasons.

Juan Marichal had a bump in the road in his age-32 season, but he returned strong the following year. That was his last good season, though.

Roy Oswalt came back strong after his first down season (2009), but he faded quickly after. Kevin Brown followed the same pattern, though he was 37 when he had his first bad year.

Dave Stieb wasn't so hot in '86 and '87, but he rattled off three fantastic seasons after that. He was pretty much finished after he turned 32, though.

Roger Clemens hit a rough patch when he was 36, but he came back stronger than ever, which is weird when you think about it, him being older than the typical pitcher, but I'm sure it was just one of those things, like mechanical or whatnot, and he probably trained really hard, so he's kind of inspiring, and maybe that's someone struggling, aging pitchers can look up to, you know?

Fergie Jenkins had a few good years after his age-32 downtick. That might be a good comp.

But when you sift through a list of comparable pitchers, the trend is pretty clear: Once the pitcher has his first uncharacteristic season, he starts redefining what his characteristic season really is. That doesn't augur well for the next few years if you're Sabathia.

What you're looking for is a way to balance the risk and reward. Which is the point of every contract, I suppose. But with Sabathia, you really have to focus on that risk. The odds are pretty good that Sabathia isn't going to be the same pitcher again. But the reward is still a pitcher who is potentially well above average. Mark Buehrle got a four-year, $58-million deal at the same age with that kind of ceiling, but he didn't sign that deal after a down season. But we can still use that as the baseline.

My answer: three years, $52 million, with all sorts of performance clauses. I still believe in Sabathia. I just don't $100-million believe in him. Someone would take the chance, though. As is, he's either the Yankees' problem or not-so-secret weapon.