Long-term contracts for pitchers are generally considered risky by baseball executives, but when deals reach the $100 million mark, teams flirt with doom. In the brief history of $100 million contracts for pitchers - there have been only four, including Kevin Brown who signed a seven-year, $105 million deal with the Dodgers before the 1999 season - every pitcher except Johan Santana last season has been plagued by injuries, ineffectiveness or both.
While Sabathia has proven he's a terrific, durable pitcher, there are plentiful cautionary tales for the Yankees, Brewers and Angels to consider. None of the four previous $100 million pitchers - Brown, Santana, Barry Zito and Mike Hampton - has pitched in the playoffs for the team he signed with. In fact, none of the teams that have signed a pitcher to a nine-figure deal has made the playoffs while that pitcher has been on their roster.
"The dangers in these kinds of deals are tremendous," said a baseball executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. "How old is the pitcher? What is his history of injury? Based on his age, how fast will his performance decline, because most pitchers, as they get older, they lose their velocity and have to become more of a pitcher and mix it up, change.
"You weigh how good the pitcher is, what is your team's need, how long do you think he can sustain his performance? There are pros to CC - he's a big guy, a good athlete, a horse. On the other hand, he's pitched a lot of innings."
Even Omar Minaya, who just signed Johan Santana to a record-setting $137.5 million deal is no fan of these contracts:
"I'm never comfortable with those kinds of contracts. It's a lot of risk. But sometimes you're forced to do them. You have to look at what the guy can give you in value to the organization.
"You tell yourself you hope your guy does it. You're talking about premium guys and there are only a few of them in the game."
Of course, that's just what the folks who signed Brown, Hampton and Zito were telling themselves at the time. But Brown was only 72-45 in seven years (58-32 in five years with the Dodgers, 14-13 in two years with the Yankees). Hampton missed the entire 2006 and 2007 season and was slowed by injuries in other seasons, too. He was 21-28 for the Rockies, who gave him an eight-year, $121 million deal before the 2001 season, and 35-24 for the Braves. Zito, who won the 2002 AL Cy Young award, is 21-30 in two lost seasons for the Giants after inking a seven-year, $126 million pact.
"If you are going to take this gamble, you have to take it on a Johan Santana or a CC Sabathia, someone like that," says Jim Duquette, the former Met and Oriole executive who now hosts a baseball show on XM Satellite radio. "They are No. 1s who can give you length in a game and are durable. With CC, you might have to be careful of the workload he's had up to this point."The risks are definitely there, nobody can deny that, but the question is are those risks enough that they would scare you away from signing Sabathia. My answer is no, as I've said all off-season I don't mind the Yankees breaking the bank for CC. It's a risk the Yankees must, and are taking.