9:45 am Oct. 2, 2012
On Monday night, the Yankees took an enormous step toward winning the American League East, beating the Boston Red Sox, 10-2. The Yankees now lead the Orioles by a game with two to play.
CC Sabathia was a significant reason why, with eight strong innings. It was just the latest reminder that in Sabathia, the Yankees made a long-term, expensive investment in a starting pitcher--one that has absolutely paid off so far.
The Yankees are now four years into the eight years they have committed to Sabathia. He has a 2017 option, based on staying healthy in 2016, so the guaranteed contract time is eight years.
He earned just under $15.3 million in 2009, just under $24.3 million in 2010 and 2011, and an even $23 million in 2012, for a total of about $86.9 million in salary over four years. For that total, he's been worh $104.3 million to the Yankees over those four years, as per Fangraphs. So the value has clearly exceeded the contract so far.
There's no guarantee that Sabathia will be as good over the contract's second half, though he showed no regression in his effectiveness in 2012, just some injury time that limited him to a still-impressive 200 innings. His strikeout rate actually went up, and his walk rate went down.
But he'll earn $94 million over the next four years--$23 million in 2013, 2014 and 2015, $25 million in 2016. That means to be worth his contract, he'll need to post years at an average of $23.5 million per season.
But long-term contracts aren't designed with the expectation that a player will stay at his peak throughout. The idea is, a team provides security, receives more value than the contract during a player's peak, and pays for it by getting less than peak performance on the back end.
Well, that's already happened with Sabathia. Because of his surplus value to date, he'll need to put up just $76.6 million in additional value over the next four years for the Yankees to break even on what they've paid him. That's an average of $19.15 million in value per season, or less value than any season Sabathia has pitched since 2005. It's a perfectly reasonable expectation for Sabathia's decline phase.
In the meantime, Sabathia has provided more than just value for the money. With the closeness of the A.L. East race this year, Sabathia is probably the difference between the Yankees beating the Orioles and finishing behind them. In fact, depending on who they'd employed in place of Sabathia, he is arguably the difference between winning the division and missing the playoffs altogether.
Pitchers like Sabathia are almost never available at a discount. In fact, few were available when the Yankees signed Sabathia, period. The four pitchers more valuable than Sabathia since 2009 are Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw. Halladay and Lee were acquired by the Phillies, and signed comparably expensive contracts to Sabathia's. Verlander and Kershaw were developed by the Tigers and Dodgers, then wisely locked up with long-term deals.
Pitchers in Sabathia's class are either as expensive as he is, or unavailable.
In the case of Sabathia, the Yankees spent their riches well. The proof is in yet another postseason appearance, the Yankees' fourth in Sabathia's four years with the team.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Mets lost to the Marlins, 3-2, in a game in which Mets pitchers allowed nine walks.
All Mets coaches are reportedly returning. The Mets rank eleventh in runs scored and eleventh in E.R.A. in the National League.
On Media Day, all eyes were on the returning and new Knicks, with Jeremy Lin a hazy spectre offstage.
The Nets know that to contend, their defense must improve.
Thierry Henry won his fifth M.L.S. Player of the Week award for his three-assist, one-goal outing Saturday night against Toronto F.C.