New York Yankees

Yankees retain CC Sabathia for leadership role, rotation insurance

The Yankees may have met with the Indians about trading for a starting pitcher on Tuesday, but it didn’t stop them from re-signing CC Sabathia.

The fact that the Yankees and CC Sabathia were able to agree on a new contract so early in free agency makes it clear that both parties wanted to get a deal done. Sabathia’s return to the Bronx certainly provides the organization excellent leadership in the clubhouse. The real question is how much on-field production Sabathia can produce in 2019.

Brian Cashman’s most optimistic hope is that the veteran southpaw can replicate what he provided the Yankees in 2018. Sabathia’s performance tailed off during the second half of the campaign, bu this overall ERA of 3.65 in 153 innings pitched was well above the profile of a league average starter. The Yankees would be happy for Sabathia to put up those numbers as their fifth (or sixth) starter.

The reported terms of the deal would equal pretty solid value for that type of production as well. Bringing Sabathia back for one-year at just $8 million will likely come in below market value. That’s another indication that Sabathia really wanted to be back in the Bronx.

The interesting question here is what impact re-signing Sabathia might have on the rest of the Yankees’ offseason plans. At first glance, his return gives the team three starting pitchers they can count on heading into next season. Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and Sabathia could all be reasonably expected to provide the team above average production.

The other two spots are still very much up in the air. The team’s interest in Patrick Corbin is obvious and well documented. It’s highly unlikely that bringing Sabathia into the fold will impact Cashman’s quest to bring the big name free agent to the Bronx.

Sabathia’s return could, however, lower the chances of J.A. Happ returning to the team next season. The former Blue Jay was the better of the two hurlers last season, but his price tag will certainly be higher than the contract Sabathia is receiving. Happ will be looking for a minimum of a three-year contract that will pay him upwards of $15 million per season. Cashman and company might be hesitant to commit that many years to a pitcher of his age.

The decision to bring back Sabathia could also signal Cashman’s unwillingness to part with big-name prospects in a deal for a potential ace. He reportedly met with Indians’ officials today and the subject of both Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco undoubtedly came up. It’s possible Cashman pivoted after hearing the asking price for those two stars.

Next: Which free agents with the Yankees re-sign in 2019?

The other possibility is that Cashman just saw too much value here to pass up. The litany of injuries the Yankees starting rotation suffered last year makes it obvious that heading into the season with just five starters is overly optimistic. The best case scenario for Yankees fans is that Sabathia is being re-signed to serve as a sixth starter/swingman in the bullpen. The veteran’s ego might not allow him to fill that void, but it would be the best thing for him and his teammates.

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