Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Today in Indefensible Journalism, Featuring Joel Sherman

Let's dive right in, shall we?
In yesterday’s Post, I wrote this column about how negotiations between CC Sabathia and the Yankees may take shape. I may be in the minority, but I think they will be difficult and I think there is a very good chance Sabathia will leave. And the reason is Derek Jeter.
Allow me to set the stage.

In the Winter of 2010, Derek Jeter was a free agent for the first time in his career. Coming off of the worst season of his phenomenal career at age 36, a season in which he made $21 MM, most everyone recognized that the Yankees would be bidding against themselves for his services. While position scarcity revealed Jeter as an above-average shortstop, few teams would be willing to approach the sort of salary that the erstwhile Captain could demand of the Yankees, and few could logically believe that his name would mean as much to another franchise as it does to the Yankees.

Now, the Winter of 2011, CC Sabathia may once more test the waters of free agency. At age 31, Sabathia is coming off of the second best season of his career by both bWAR and fWAR, both of which view him as within the top-three in Major League Baseball. Few teams are able to afford such a prodigious salary as Sabathia is sure to demand, but it is worth noting that both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have broken the $20 MM AAV plateau over the past two years, with the latter having multiple teams bid for his services.

At face value, it would be difficult to find two players at such starkly different points in their careers.
No, Jeter is not actually part of these negotiations. But think about how the Yankees handled talks with a legend last year. They were concerned about his long-term future.
A justified concern, given his age and subpar 2010 campaign. A concern that seems justifiable in hindsight, as even Jeter's hot second-half left his overall offensive line well below his baseline.
The Jeter camp thought because he was Derek Jeter with all that he meant to the franchise, the Yankees would just capitulate and give him a deal in the range of five years at $125 million.
A questionable stance, given that little rational thought would construe Jeter as having much leverage in the negotiations.
The Yankees not only never considered it: They went public with their views, namely with Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman putting voice to their concerns about Jeter’s worth. And this was Derek Jeter. Face of the franchise. Beloved by the fans. Historic Yankee who has played nowhere else. It was a little bit like taking on Santa Claus at Christmas time.
The Yankees also went public with the Rodriguez negotiations, and he ended up re-signing (in another instance of the team bidding against itself). Jeter also re-signed, and there was little that indicated the negotiations hindered the organization or the player.

The rest is largely irrelevant, as it doesn't apply to CC Sabathia in any way, shape, or form.
Sabathia loves being a Yankee and the Yankees adore having Sabathia on their team and in their clubhouse. But he is no Jeter. He has played two other places. He has put down stakes in New Jersey, but not roots.
Nothing to see here, other than Sherman revealing that his previous point was irrelevant as soon as he hit return.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are as concerned about his long-term future as they were with Jeter due to Sabathia’s workload and, especially because of his expanding girth.
Girardi and Cashman have said all the right things with respect to Sabathia's long term future. Both have indicated that his purported weight gain did not have an impact on his season, and little has come forth to the contrary. Regardless, issues like this are always a part of negotiations, as will surely be the case when Prince Fielder looks for a boatload of cash.
Remember what happened with Jeter: The Yankees made an offer and essentially told Jeter – remember, Derek Jeter – if you don’t like it and think you can get more, go shop it. Jeter was never going to shop it. First, it was highly unlikely another team was going to give a shortstop heading into his upper-30s and coming off by far his worst season a three-year contract at good money. Second, the image that allows Jeter to be one of the top athletes when it comes to corporate/commercial ties is one built around loyalty and association with the biggest of all sports franchises. To chase comparative nickels, Jeter was not going to threaten that image. He had a one-team negotiation and eventually signed the Yankees deal.
Once more ... none of this applies to CC Sabathia. It's also highly doubtful that the Yankees would attempt such a ploy as, unlike Jeter, Sabathia will have at least a few teams offering him the moon.
Sabathia’s investment in the Yankees is not in the same universe. Yes, he has gotten some commercials, probably because of his Yankees association. But if the Yankees push Sabathia, I fully expect him to push back and go into the marketplace. Brian Peters is the agent who works for CC Sabathia, but he is part of a group led by Greg Genske and Genske’s reputation was summed up this way by a non-Yankees executive: “He is a hard negotiator who is going for the bucks.”
How does this have anything to do with Derek Jeter? Or the Jeter contract negotiations?

I'll give you a hint - it doesn't.
So if the Yankees wonder if any teams would be willing to exceed the four years at $92 million left currently on Sabathia’s deal, I suspect Peters/Genske will advise their client that they can find more. Then it will be up to Sabathia to decide if he really wants to spend perhaps the rest of his career in, say, Washington or Toronto.
Sabathia probably can find a nice chunk of change in several cities, so I'm not quite sure how this has anything to do with Jeter. If and when Sabathia opts out, he has every right to attempt to sell his services. Should Washington or Toronto seek to make an offer, I'm sure Sabathia will consider it - as he should. I'm also quite sure the Yankees will not hesitate to offer their very best when push comes to shove.
The one team that would probably be a no-brainer for him is back in his home state, the Angels. And, remember, the Angels were just about to bid six years at about $125 million last time when the Yankees went to seven years at $161 million to seal the deal – but the deal did have this opt-out clause after three seasons. Which is where we are now.
When the Angels offered Sabathia that contract, they chose to pursue his services over Teixeira's - they operate on a set budget, not within the Yankees stratosphere. Much of, if not all of that money is now being paid to Vernon Wells, who will make $21 MM in 2012. And 2013. And 2014. A sizable extension was just given to Jered Weaver, who will make $85 MM over the next five years. With no major contracts coming off the books, I don't quite see how the Angels could make a push for CC Sabathia.
If pushed will the Yankees budge higher? Well, I think they are hesitant to tie themselves up to much longer contracts, notably because they are seeing what it does to even their roster and financial flexibility moving forward if Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira both continue to fade.
I have not seen much proof of this.

It's also worth noting that Sabathia isn't likely to command the dollars or years that the Yankees gave to Rodriguez and Teixeira, and that their respective roles and positions make the situation entirely different.
Also, the lack of a true ace in this current World Series could be a motivator to the Yankees that they can find other ways to meet their mandate to win a championship.
Both C.J. Wilson and Chris Carpenter were within the top-fifteen in fWAR this season. Both teams had another starter in the top-30 in fWAR (Matt Harrison for the Rangers ranked 24th, and Jaime Garcia placed 30th). The Rangers placed four of their five starting pitchers in the top-37 in fWAR. After Sabathia, the Yankees next best starter was Bartolo Colon, who placed 50th.

The Rangers starters produced 3.5 fWAR more than the Yankees rotation, with Sabathia's 7.1 fWAR included. Sure - Sabathia's far better than anyone on the Rangers staff ... but having four starters superior to the Yankees second starter speaks volumes about the importance of a strong rotation, ace or not. Replacing Sabathia with an average starter this season would have seen the Yankees staff drop to 17th in MLB - and likely out of the postseason.

Without Sabathia, what is the Yankees contingency plan to avoid such a precipitous drop? Signing C.J. Wilson to a A.J. Burnett like contract? Throwing money at Yu Darvish? Giving up draft picks and praying for miracles from Mark Buehrle and/or Roy Oswalt? Trolling the recycling bin once more?

The front office may not want to dole out another blockbuster contract, but Cashman et al are intelligent enough to know that Sabathia's production isn't being replicated by anyone else on the market - and the negotiations will progress as such.

And no, this does not have anything to do with Derek Jeter.

Follow me on Twitter - @DomenicLanza

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