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12/10/08 1:49 PM EST
Sabathia to buck trend with Yankees
Prized free-agent starter has goods to make it big in Big Apple
CC Sabathia went 106-71 with a 3.83 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP during his 7 1/2 seasons with the Indians. (AP)


Finding quality pitching is never easy, and that's especially been true for the Yankees in recent years.

From Carl Pavano to Javier Vazquez, Randy Johnson and Kenny Rogers, the list of established pitchers burned by the Big Apple goes on and on.

Does this mean CC Sabathia -- who has spent his entire career in the small markets of Cleveland and Milwaukee -- is headed down the same ugly road?

The American League East won't be nearly as kind to Sabathia as the National League Central was in 2008.

But remember, there's one thing Sabathia has that many of the aforementioned pitchers didn't before going to New York: AL experience.

Yankees fans can take solace in the fact that the big left-hander paid his dues over 7 1/2 seasons with the Indians -- even earning a Cy Young Award for his 19-win campaign in 2007 -- before being traded to Milwaukee in July. Sabathia had little trouble upon his big league arrival in '01, notching a 17-5 record, a 4.39 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 180 1/3 innings -- a strong indication that he adjusts quickly to new environments.

Looking back, the Yankees' top pitching imports have come from within the AL, regardless of market size.

Remember Jimmy Key? After a nine-year tenure in Toronto, he recorded a career-high 18 wins in '93, his first season wearing pinstripes. David Wells emerged as a consistent frontline starter after joining the team in '97. Roger Clemens certainly hacked it in New York when he picked up his sixth Cy Young Award in '01, and Mike Mussina averaged 17 wins over his eight-year tenure with the Yankees.

But not all AL pitchers are cut out for the Big Apple. A seven-year Rangers career clearly didn't prepare Rogers for the Bronx spotlight. His two seasons with the club, from 1996-97, constituted the worst back-to-back campaigns of his 20-year career. And what about the Big Unit, who made his name in the AL with Seattle but never found his way in New York?

Of course, it's tough to compare Sabathia to a finesse pitcher like Rogers, or a 41-year-old Johnson. After all, Sabathia is coming off the two best years of his career and is at the top of his game.

Which makes it even more difficult to envision him tanking in New York.

While the '09 Yankees lineup is currently under renovation, playing in the Bronx never hurt a pitcher's win total. By the time general manager Brian Cashman finishes his offseason shopping, the Yankees will likely feature an offense comparable to the Ryan Braun/Prince Fielder-led unit that helped Sabathia go 11-2 during a half-season's worth of work in Milwaukee.

With that kind of run support behind him over a full season, the durable lefty could crack 20 victories for the first time in his career while notching his usual 200-plus strikeouts. And while a move back to the AL will likely negatively impact his ERA, it's reasonable to expect something in the neighborhood of the 3.22 mark he averaged over his final two full seasons in Cleveland.

Fantasy owners would be hard-pressed to find a rotation arm other than Johan Santana who comes with the same package of skill and reliability.

Consider Sabathia a surefire Top 5 starter, and don't be surprised if he follows the path of Wells and reaches his highest gear in New York.

Alex Cushing is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.