CC Sabathia
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Yankees must bring starting pitcher CC Sabathia back for 2019 by any means necessary.

Josh Benjamin

CC Sabathia is about to become a free agent for the second year in a row. If the New York Yankees are smart, they’ll bring him back for 2019.

OK, that’s a broad statement. After all, the Yankees are in a position where the pitching staff needs to get younger, and Sabathia turns 39 next summer. He also earned $10 million in 2018, a lot of money for a player his age. Sabathia is no longer a spring chicken and isn’t the type of pitcher he was upon arriving in New York. Still, he has etched himself into Yankee lore in more ways than one.

Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen. CC Sabathia’s intangibles outweigh any concerns there may be about his pitching. This is exactly why the Yankees must give him one more year in the Bronx.

A rocky campaign

CC Sabathia’s 2018 was, to be blunt, a step back compared to what he did in 2017. He went 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA last year compared to 9-7 with a mark of 3.65 this season, which is basically a wash, and Sabathia also saw his K/9 go up to 8.24 from 7.26. His WAR jumped from 1.9 to 2.5. Despite his issues, he basically kept pace with last year’s performance.

However, Sabathia’s groundball rate (GB%) dipped five and a half points to 44.4 percent, per Fangraphs. His flyball rate (FB%) jumped nearly seven and a half points to 35.3 percent. Luck may have been a factor in that regard, at least to a certain degree, but the numbers speak for themselves. CC Sabathia is an aging veteran with diminishing fastball velocity, so how much could he have left in the tank?

Throw in Sabathia dealing with knee and hamstring issues once again in 2018, and the odds of returning next year look stacked against him.

Invaluable intangibles

And yet, despite all of those issues, the Yankees need to bring back CC Sabathia for one reason: intangibles. The big lefty has some qualities that just cannot be taught, like leadership and tenacity. On a team with so many young players, like New York has right now, a veteran with those traits is a great asset.

Let’s go back to Apr. 11, when the Bronx Bombers were visiting the hated Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The benches cleared twice that night in the Yankees’ 10-7 victory, as can be seen in the video below.

If any of you watched the full clip, you’ll see CC Sabathia is not afraid to get loud and/or involved in a dispute. He protects his teammates unconditionally, regardless of circumstances.

Still not convinced? Well, what about the Yankees’ game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 27. Sabathia was cruising along in that game, having thrown five shutout innings with ease. Here’s a quick refresher course before we go any further. In the fifth, a pitch got away from him and hit Rays first baseman Jake Bauers. The Rays retaliated in the top of the sixth by throwing at Austin Romine, and Sabathia then got himself tossed on the first pitch of the bottom half in hitting Jesus Sucre.

Now, looking at that tape, watch Sabathia after his catcher gets hit. He is literally outside the dugout ready to spring into action. After getting tossed, he points directly into the Rays’ dugout and makes it known he knew what he was doing.

Not only that, but Sabathia actually cost himself a $500,000 bonus in getting tossed. In an era of ever-rising salaries, how many other players would have done what Sabathia did? If the Yankees’ 2019 season is the story of The Princess Bride, Sabathia is the team’s Fezzik. He isn’t just on the Brute Squad, he is the Brute Squad. He is truly a team-first player and has earned the right to come back in 2019.

The Andy Pettitte approach

Remember Andy Pettitte‘s second stint with the Yankees? He came back on a one-year, $16 million deal in 2007. For the rest of his career, before and after he retired for 2011, New York just kept bringing him back on a series of one-year deals. It was basically a standing invitation to return on a year-by-year basis.

Now, to be clear, CC Sabathia’s name does not carry nearly the same amount of weight as Pettitte’s. By the time Pettitte had ten years in pinstripes under his belt, he had played in six World Series and won four. He was the team’s big game pitcher and thrived under pressure. Sabathia, by comparison, only has one World Series appearance, though he too embraces pressure.

The point is Sabathia has endeared himself to both his teammates and fans to the point where he deserves to come back. So long as he can accept being paid an amount less than or equal to his 2018 salary, a return should be easily agreed upon.

Final thoughts

For as much as the die-hard Yankees fan in me wants CC Sabathia back for the reasons just discussed, it isn’t hard to see the forest through the trees. He’s been running on borrowed time in New York since the end of the 2016 season. His balky knee can only hold up for so long. If his cutter which he threw nearly 42 percent of the time last year isn’t biting, he’s going to get hit hard.

But the state of New York’s rotation is such where it would actually benefit New York to re-sign Sabathia. Brian Cashman appears committed to trading Sonny Gray, leaving Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka as the only locks for the starting rotation next year. Rookie Justus Sheffield also isn’t quite ready. Sure, the Yankees will almost certainly try to re-sign J.A. Happ and adding a free agent like Patrick Corbin is also a possibility. Assuming the Yankees land those two, that leaves one open spot in the rotation.

There is no better man than CC Sabathia to fill that void. He and his family live in the New York area year-round. He loves being a New York Yankee. The man has said, without actually saying so, that he doesn’t want to be anywhere else. The team is built to win now, so why would he?

Despite winning just one ring, Sabathia has done so much for this franchise. It’s time to reward him by giving him one last shot at a ring.


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