The 2018 Wild Card game could be the last time CC Sabathia suits up in the New York Yankees pinstripes. What a shame that would be.
CC Sabathia is the man who helped deliver the last New York Yankees World Series championship in 2009. He’s hinted that a title last year would have sent him off into the sunset, and the big lefty has flat out stated that a win this year would be the end.
He’s since walked that back, saying that his future just depends on how much trouble his faulty right knee gives him.
“I’m [going] start to start,” Sabathia told MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi. “I go out one start and feel like I can pitch five more years. I go out another start and I’m [feeling] done. But if I can stay healthy — if my knee holds up — hopefully I’ll play one more.”
The chances of either outcome—retirement or return—are essentially equal at this point. The Yankees front office has to convince Sabathia to give it at least one more shot in 2019, for his sake and theirs.
He has unfinished legacy business
One selling point the Yankees can use to tempt Sabathia into returning is his legacy. Sabathia currently has numbers worthy Hall of Fame consideration, but he could solidify his case with another good season or two.
There are issues with CC’s cumulative stats that will hurt his Hall of Fame chances. Right now his 3.70 ERA would be the fourth worst in the Hall, which boasts an average ERA of 2.99.
However, Sabathia is very close to some significant career milestones. He needs 4 more wins for 250 and only 14 more strikeouts for 3,000.
Those are some nice round numbers to finish up with—numbers that will look a lot better than the ones he has now to Hall of Fame voters.
If he can get 10 more wins, he’ll tie Former Yankee Andy Pettitte for 41st all-time. Sabathia has averaged 130 strikeouts over his last two years, and if he can do that again he’ll move into a tie with Curt Schilling for 15th place in MLB history.
While CC may not be a lock to join the ranks at Cooperstown, another year will ensure voters at least have a lot to think about before casting their votes.
One thing they might think about is how Jack Morris made it in with 254 wins and a 3.90 ERA.
The Yankees need him
Win or lose this postseason, the Yankees need Sabathia in 2019.
New York only has three members of its rotation under contract for 2019: Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Jordan Montgomery — who still has a long way to go before he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. The free agent market for starting pitchers in the offseason doesn’t look too promising in terms of locking down an ace for several years.
The best free agent starters are either injury prone (Garrett Richards, Hyun-Jin Ryu), too old (J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton), or too inconsistent to be worth a major investment (Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel).
If Clayton Kershaw opts out of his contract, he’s an intriguing but crazy expensive option. But he’s expected to stand pat.
There’s no reason to waste long-term money on any of these pitchers when Gerrit Cole will hit the open market in 2020.
Also, the Yankees still have a pretty stacked minor league system. They can develop their own front-end starter—someone like Justus Sheffield, Jonathan Loaisiga, or Domingo German—or patiently wait to see who’s available at the trade deadline.
Brian Cashman will probably go with a rental or two behind Severino and Tanaka, leaving the fifth spot open for a spring training competition. One of those rentals should be Sabathia.
Sabathia has mastered the art of pitching with a high-80s fastball over the past three years, so there’s no reason to think he can’t keep it up. Also, he’s worth the money just for his clubhouse presence and ability to mentor young prospects.
He deserves a better sendoff
Just in case Sabathia decides his body can’t grind through another season, the Yankees have to win the Wild Card game and get him at least one more start in October, hopefully at Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia has given the Yankees more than they could’ve asked for, both on and off the field. His 129 wins with the team are good for 11th in Yankees history, and he’s fourth in strikeouts.
But it’s CC’s leadership that really sets him apart. Just look at how he ended 2018, sacrificing a $500,000 bonus to defend backup catcher Austin Romine.
CC Sabathia's ejection ?#YANKSonYES pic.twitter.com/53W4XzwER3
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) September 27, 2018
The 38-year-old Sabathia is even a great wing man, apparently playing a role in hooking up Giancarlo Stanton and his rumored supermodel girlfriend Chase Carter.
If he does choose to retire, the only way to send him off is with bookend World Series rings, one from his first year as a Yankee and one from his last.
The man has earned it.