CC derby picks up steam at Meetings
By not accepting Yanks' offer, ace lefty has attracted suitors
LAS VEGAS -- The premier event of this offseason, the CC Sabathia Sweepstakes, continued at the Winter Meetings on Monday. It continued with much more speculation than definition, but the drama must be allowed to build at its own pace in these matters.
The Yankees have met with Sabathia and his representatives. They have made an offer for six years and $140 million, which would be a record for a pitching contract.
The Brewers, Sabathia's most recent employers, met with the pitchers' representatives on Monday. The Brewers have made an offer for a reported five years and $100 million. A degree in nuclear physics is not required to notice the mathematical difference between these offers, but the Brewers were led to believe that they were still in the hunt.
"We feel we still have an opportunity," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said on Monday. "Until they tell you no, you obviously still have a chance."
A third party, although one without an offer on the table, also became involved in the Sabathia news cycle. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told reporters that he had a chance meeting with the pitcher during which Sabathia informed him that he wanted to become a Dodger.
This was completely believable, based not only on Colletti's personal credibility, but Sabathia's own previously stated preferences. Sabathia is a Californian, and he has said that he would like to remain in the National League, in part because he likes swinging the bat on a regular basis.
To the outside observer, Sabathia might want to stay in the National League because, while he was a very good pitcher in the American League, during a 17-start stint with Milwaukee, he was a dominant pitcher. Professional life is harder for pitchers in the AL. Sabathia, an intelligent fellow, will have noticed that.
The fact that Sabathia has not yet simply taken the biggest available windfall -- from the Yankees -- offers encouragement to all of the rest of the potential suitors. Sabathia and his people are taking their time. This may be frustrating to the rest of the world, but they have a lifetime decision to make.
There is a school of thought that Sabathia is simply waiting for an appropriate offer from a West Coast team. The Angels, Dodgers and Giants may be thought of as logical suitors in these circumstances. But the Angels' potential pursuit of Sabathia could be contingent upon whether they can re-sign first baseman Mark Teixeira, who may command a deal larger than even Sabathia's.
Thus, a double logjam of sorts has been created. Until the Angels' status as a bidder for Sabathia is clarified, his situation won't be resolved. And while the situation of the preeminent free-agent pitcher isn't resolved, the market for the rest of the free-agent pitchers could remain in flux.
In the meantime, offers of mega-millions remain on the table, virtually untouched. The Brewers' initial bid of $100 million, while it may not seem like much in comparison with the $140 million offered by the Yankees, is a remarkable bid for a small-market franchise. It is roughly twice the amount the Brewers have paid for any other single contract. And if it is not Yankee-like, it is apparently enough to keep the Brewers in the chase.
"They appreciated us being patient through this process and they didn't want to rule us out," Melvin said of the meeting with Sabathia's representatives.
The Brewers believe that they have a lead in some intangible categories. Sabathia, at the end of the season, for instance, expressed his satisfaction with the makeup of the Milwaukee team and the atmosphere around it and expressed a desire to stay with the Brewers.
"I asked if there were any other issues outside of money that we needed to discuss," said Gord Ash, Brewers assistant general manager. "They said that they were completely satisfied with all the other issues."
"It's not a matter of us having to recruit him," Melvin said.
Melvin declined to confirm published reports that the Brewers had sweetened their offer to Sabathia, adding a sixth year and a clause allowing the pitcher to opt out of the contract after two or three years.
"I'm not going to say," Melvin said when asked if the Brewers had increased their offer in any way. "When you're negotiating, it's best not to say."
The Brewers' obvious best hope here is that money is not the sole object for Sabathia. Every day that passes without the pitcher signing with the Yankees offers some encouragement on that front. The experience he had in Milwaukee was positive for the club and positive for Sabathia.
Even before the 2008 season, it was not difficult to project a windfall for Sabathia during the 2008-09 winter. He's 28, he's healthy, he's left-handed and he won the 2007 AL Cy Young Award.
But then Sabathia did everything he could do to further maximize his worth. After being traded from Cleveland to Milwaukee, he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts. In half a season, he managed to lead the National League in complete games (seven) and shutouts (three). Not only that, down the stretch, he repeatedly pitched on short rest. With all due respect to the rest of the Milwaukee roster, Sabathia was the single player most responsible for this franchise reaching the postseason for the first time in 26 years.
This performance reinforced his position at the top of the pitching free-agent class. Now, the question is: What is the biggest motivating factor in CC Sabathia's next career move? Is it money or is it a situation with which he already has established some comfort? Or, if one or more of the California clubs becomes involved in the bidding, could it become geography?
This is a fascinating situation, not only because of Sabathia's talent, but because he has received a record-setting offer and he has let it sit there, gathering dust but not interest.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.