To no one’s surprise, the New York Yankees announced that CC Sabathia would be their fifth starter getting the nod over Ivan Nova. Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM continues to insist that it’s not really about the money ($25 million compared to $4 million) and for the moment let’s give him a pass and assume that is true. The real story then might be that Sabathia is the fifth starter and not the pitcher the Yankees gave that huge contract to back in 2009 when he was highly touted as a “workhorse” who would never break down.
But those predictions were based on his arm never breaking down – and they have largely proved to be correct. The problem though is that legs are everything in pitching – not necessarily the arm. Your legs create power and when used effectively take strain and wear and tear off your arm.
So, it should come as no surprise that a 325 pound hulk of a man finds himself in a situation where his legs, and in particular his knees, have abandoned him from the pounding they have taken on the mound landing strip over the years. And as many of us know, knees are a special challenge for surgeons. Or to put it another way, there is no Tommy John surgery for knees.
But there’s more to the Yankees decision than meets the eye and that’s why it’s a story of life’s twists and turns with built in intrigue – and therefore a compelling story about baseball ………..
The Yankees won their last World Championship the year that CC Sabathia joined the team as a free agent signing in 2009 and his contribution was more than significant. That crown was especially important for two reasons for the Yankees franchise. First, it was the inaugural year of the “New” Yankee Stadium, and secondly (and more importantly maybe), is that The Boss was failing in health and this was sort of “one for the Gipper” in Yankeeland – and especially within the clubhouse. (Note: Steinbrenner died the following June)
Now as we know, loyalty is fleeting in baseball and throughout all of professional sports. But having said that, in this situation loyalty to Sabathia definitely might be playing as a factor. In a clubhouse full of aging and experienced veterans, Sabathia is widely respected. Often, he brings the team together for barbecues at his home – or takes a bunch of the younger guys to a Knicks game. So one thing you don’t want to do is take a team north to start the season with a stinging rebuke of a teammate you have a good deal of comraderie with and who is also in your age bracket where you can see the writing on the wall for yourself.
There’s also another factor at work here and on this one you’ll never hear anyone in the Yankees organization speaking to it. Nevertheless, it’s a real possibility as it relates to their decision. Because when the front office doesn’t want to upset that all important “feel ” in the clubhouse, they can resort to a strategy of giving the player in question “enough opportunities to fall “. And then, fans and media jump on the bandwagon calling for the head of the player – and this allows them to make the move they wanted to make in the first place.
I know that is a rather sinister view of the business of baseball and there’s only a chance behind closed doors that this is the strategy of the Yankees. But, you can also look on the bright side. What if Sabathia turns his career around completely and learns to pitch with a 91mph fastball while learning how to mix it up with a finely crafted change up – much like Andy Pettite did in the sunset of his career – well, then you have a win win situation for everyone. But so far, Sabathia has shown either a unwillingness or inability to do so.
Sabathia is helped by the fact that Ivan Nova (lower left) has failed in every attempt the Yankees have given him and that stupid incident last year with the pine tar in full view on his neck was an embarrassment to the organization. And one thing you don’t do is embarrass the stoic New York Yankees.
So in all likelihood, the Yankees will sit back and wait – for a while! But in the meantime, they will be keeping a close eye on the transaction wire as teams continue to formulate the construction of their respective teams. And if a name discarded by another team pops up ,we’ll see the Yankees attempt to sign one of those lightning in a bottle pitchers to a minor league deal and then grooming him as a ready replacement for both Sabathia and Nova.
Brian Cashman knows the team needs to get younger and more athletic if the team is going to compete in the 21st Century. He’s made inroads along those lines with an eye toward the 2017 season. But a jumpstart in that direction propelled by the failure of two pitchers currently “in the way ” would not be the cause of him having a sleepless night…….