Sabathia’s Opt Out

When CC Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the New York Yankees in 2009, it looked as if the Yankees had acquired their ace of the future. That future may be in jeopardy, as Sabathia has recently hinted at exercising his opt out clause following the 2011 season. While Sabathia is already well compensated, it’s definitely possible, if not likely, that Sabathia can make more money on the open market if he turns in another solid season.

If history is any indication, Sabathia shouldn’t have a problem churning out another solid season. Over his career, Sabathia has remained exceptionally healthy, averaging over 32 games started per season. Over that stretch, it’s tough to find another pitcher with Sabathia’s combination of dominance and consistency. He has shown no signs of decline at this stage of his career, and has posted five straight season with a WAR above 5.0. Barring an injury, or a complete loss of skills, Sabathia will likely perform at the same level in 2011.

If (when) he does, the Yankees will be put in a tough position. Sabathia, who already makes $23 million per season, can use the Cliff Lee contract as leverage in negotiations if he chooses to opt out of his deal. Over the course of Lee’s contract, the lefty averages a yearly salary of $24 million. It might seem foolish for Sabathia to go to war over an extra $1 million per season, but there’s an argument that he actually could deserve more. Lee didn’t own the consistency or spotless injury history that Sabathia possesses, but that didn’t stop teams from paying Lee more last off-season. Sabathia would be a year younger than Lee if he reached free ageny, so teams might be slightly more inclined to offer Sabathia an extra year.

If Sabathia is unsure about whether to opt out after the season, he doesn’t have to go far for advice. Alex Rodriguez went through the exact same situation in 2007. Even though A-Rod was already signed to a massive deal, he chose to opt out of his contract to secure a more lucrative deal from the Yankees. Rather than allow Rodriguez to walk, the Yankees gave him a ten-year, $275 million contract. While Sabathia won’t receive that type of deal, it’s important to note that Rodriguez was 32 years old when he opted out, older than Sabathia would be after this season. Even though it’s only one example, Sabathia could look at the A-Rod situation and use it to his advantage.

Of course, all this talk about Sabathia’s opt out clause couldn’t come at a worse time for the Yankees. The rotation is already considered the weakest part of this team, and losing Sabathia would be a gigantic blow. If AJ Burnett fails to bounce back, and the young prospects cannot take a step forward, locking up Sabathia becomes an even bigger priority for the Yankees. While that situation isn’t likely, it shows that Sabathia has little to lose, and potentially a whole lot to gain, if he chooses to opt out.

The Yankees will have the entire 2011 season to develop a plan in case Sabathia opts out of his deal. Brian Cashman is already saying all the right things about Sabathia, and it appears both sides are happy at the moment. After another successful season with the team, it would be foolish if Sabathia didn’t at least test the market. The Yankees might not be happy about re-working Sabathia’s contract after only three seasons, but they’ll likely do whatever it takes to keep CC in NY.

Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Ari Collins

Has any player ever not opted out when it looked like they could make more money by doing so? Granted, Sabathia may not get that much more than he’s getting now per year, but it’s hard to see him becoming a FA after this year and not getting at least five years, and probably six.