Sabathia Returns to the Yankees

The New York Yankees and CC Sabathia reached an Election Night agreement on a one-year, $8 million contract that keeps the big lefty in the middle of the rotation for another year.

All the Yankees hoped Sabathia would do for the team in 2018 was eat 150-175 innings respectably and cut off the downside risk of the team’s rotation so they wouldn’t have to cross the luxury-tax threshold with a free-agent acquisition. That’s precisely what Sabathia did, his late-career mini-renaissance continuing to the tune of a 3.65 ERA and 8.2 K/9 — his most in a healthy season since 2012, the tail end of his ace years.

There’s no question that Sabathia’s day at the top of the rotation has long since turned to night, but there’s little reason to think he can’t continue to do what he’s been doing for the last few years. Surgery on his knee last month was only a minor one and shouldn’t affect his availability.

Fittingly for someone wearing the same uniform as Mariano Rivera, Sabathia pulled his career off the brink in 2014-15 with the addition of a cutter, a pitch initially taught to him by Andy Pettitte in 2014. It essentially replaced his fastball, a pitch that went from touching 95 in his prime to around 90 in recent years. The cutter hasn’t gotten Mariano-esque results, necessarily — he’s allowed a .238 batting average and .382 slugging percentage on the pitch since 2016 — but it gives him a good complement to his slider, which has always been his key pitch.

I suspect that this shuts the almost closed door on Sonny Gray as a Yankee, whether the team can convince someone to take him in a trade or not. The team’s been vocal about acquiring starters come hell or high water this offseason, and they have likely meant something more ambitious than Sabathia on a cheap deal. Counting Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, as well, that gives the Yankees three starters written in ink — and even if the team strikes out on their offseason targets, I can’t imagine that Gray is in front of Chance Adams, Domingo German, Justus Sheffield, and Johnny Lasagna (or possibly even any of them). Obviously, any of these pitchers could exit via trade, but the likely result of that trade would be someone whom the team likes a lot better.

What’s interesting me is how close Sabathia can get to 300 wins. If he stays effective for a couple years, he probably retires with a WAR around 70 and around 270-280 wins. That win ceiling may not be as limited as one would think: he’s soft-tossing his way to incredibly low exit velocity — fifth-best in baseball in 2018, following up ranking ninth and third the previous two seasons — so maybe can be Really Big Jamie Moyer.

ZiPS Preliminary Projection – CC Sabathia
2019 8 7 4.20 25 25 133.0 133 62 19 45 115 103 1.9

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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3 years ago

i doubt he’ll get to 300, as he has apparently announced 2019 will be his last season in the bigs: