A few months after CC Sabathia joined the Yankees for the 2009 season, I asked him why he decided to live in Bergen County, N.J. Sabathia explained what he liked about the area and how he liked being close to Yankee Stadium, but he quickly turned from the interviewee to the interviewer. He asked me which local high schools had the best athletic programs for boys.
At the time, CC’s son, Little CC, was five years old and in kindergarten. That didn’t stop CC from gazing several years into the future and wondering which New Jersey high school might someday be the best fit for the next Carsten Charles Sabathia. CC knew a few tidbits about some schools, showing that he had already done a bit of research for Little CC’s freshman year in 2017.
When Sabathia reported to Spring Training in Tampa on Monday, he was pelted with questions about whether he might opt out of his contract after the 2011 season. Previously, Sabathia had said that he wouldn’t. But Sabathia, who is in the third year of a seven-year, $161-million deal, was more vague about the future Monday, simply saying “I’m here.”
As Sabathia’s non-committal comments about his Yankees future caused a stir, I remembered our conversation. That chat told me that Sabathia was planning on keeping his family in the New York area for a while. But just because Sabathia was curious about high schools doesn’t mean that he will bypass using the leverage of the option. In fact, unless Sabathia has a dreadful season or gets injured, the Yankees are bracing for the possibility of negotiating an extension.
Since Sabathia signed his contract, he has grown into an even more valuable commodity. Cliff Lee, Sabathia’s friend, signed a five-year, $120-million deal with the Phillies last December, but he could have accepted a seven-year deal for about $150 million from the Yankees. Sabathia, who will turn 31 in July, is two years younger than Lee. He is a superb pitcher and a dedicated father looking toward the future, but he is also a savvy businessman.
The Yankees have long described themselves as a “now” team, meaning that they believe they should win a title every year. That was George Steinbrenner’s mandate. Hank Steinbrenner, the general partner, repeated his father’s theme Monday as he told reporters the Yankees would always remain appealing to Sabathia because, “We’re going to be in it every year, every single year.”
If Sabathia has another strong season, the Yankees will want to make sure they are guaranteed to have him at the top of their rotation. After 2011, Sabathia will have four years and $92 million left on his contract. While that is a massive pile of money for Sabathia to potentially walk away from, he would probably be a more attractive free agent than Lee was in 2010. Of course, Sabathia would need to have some deep-pocketed suitors and none of the West Coast teams (Dodgers, Angels, Giants and Athletics) are likely to fit that profile.
In Sabathia’s two years with the Yankees, he has shown them that he is a drama-free pitcher. Nothing bothers him. The Yankees believe Sabathia wants to stay in New York and they want him to stay. Because of Sabathia’s opt-out clause, he might be staying here even longer now, long enough to choose the right high school for the next CC.
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