What would you do with a starting pitcher who is 35 years old (and looks older), struggles to hit 91 on the gun, rarely has command of his fastball, spent most of last year rehabbing a serious knee injury, then spent most of the winter in rehab for self defined alcoholism………. And to whom you owe $50 million to over the next two seasons?
This outlines the dilemma facing the New York Yankees with CC Sabathia. But no matter what they do it’s a lose lose situation for which they have no one to blame but themselves as yet another of the long term contracts given freely away bites them in the butt on the backend.
So what should they do……..bite the financial bullet making him a backup starter and long relief guy………or put him out there as their fifth starter and hope for the best? Joe Girardi has said since the first day of Spring Training that the spot is open to competition – which is a statement that shows zero loyalty to Sabathia and just might be a hint to the way the team is actually thinking………
First, a look backward will add some clarity to the present. By 2008, the Yankees were on another run, only this one was in the opposite direction of the Nineties run. Seven years had gone by since their last appearance in a World Series. Even though his health was deteriorating at the time, “The Boss” was having none of it. Solution?…….the Yankees way of course……… Sabathia, Mark Teixeria, (left) along with A J Burnett (below) were all signed to long term contracts. And with the Core Four still intact, the plan worked out ending with a World Championship in 2009 and George Steinbrenner got what he was looking for prior to his passing in June 2010.
Sabathia proved to be invaluable that year going 19-8 while logging 230 innings over 34 starts. He also won the ALCS MVP award. The next three years he won 21, 19, and 15 games logging 200 or more innings in each of those seasons. In short, he was earning his money. Since then however, everything has gone downhill with an embarrassing 21-27 record through last season accented by a ERA exploding into the high fours.
Coupled with that and exasperating the problem was that CC lost the zip on his fastball and appeared lost as to what to do about it. Once, he was throwing 95 with no effort and now he dreaded the reports beamed on the scoreboard after every pitch.
While we hear it over and over again that baseball is a constant game of adjustments, the message appeared to be lost on Sabathia even though his teammate Andy Pettite experienced the same thing but battled through it by learning how to locate his diminished fastball while achieving continued success to the day he left the game for good. To this day, Sabathia still doesn’t seem to “get it”……….. And thus, it surprises no one that he continues to struggle.
However, the clock is ticking and decisions will soon be made regarding the composition of the Yankees 25 man roster for 2016. Yesterday, Sabathia struggled through 1 2/3 innings exhibiting command of none of his pitches. Ivan Nova, another problem child, waits in the wings as the most serious competitor to take CC”s spot in the rotation.
But in the end and as we know, baseball is a business. Nova is prime trade bait and is probably in need of a change of scenery to reach his full potential as a fourth or fifth starter on a team that needs pitching. And while the Yankees may want to pull the trigger on a deal, Sabathia forces them to hold off, at least for now.
Personal issues aside, it remains a mystery as to why Sabathia has not adapted to Father Time, the bane of all athletes. Is it because he can’t – or is it because he won’t? Either way, the Yankees team loses.
CC as the underdog in fighting his demons was a refreshing baseball and human story. But now, it’s almost game on and something or someone has to give………..for Sabathia the choice is simple. Do you wallow away in the belief that you can still put batters away with a 92mph slider that you don’t have anymore…… Or do you learn how to pitch at the ripe old age of 35 and perhaps move on to at least being part of the Hall Of Fame conversation when you retire……..
More than wins and losses, these are the human stories that make baseball all the more fun to follow………..