When the New York Yankees signed pitcher CC Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million contract, they included opt-out clauses in each of the first three years of the deal. Why? Because Sabathia wasn't sure he wanted to pitch in New York, so to lure the hefty left-hander into pinstripes, the Yankees gave him an out.
Yesterday, when asked whether he would opt out and become a free agent at the end of the upcoming season, Sabathia said, "I have no idea. [The opt-out clause] is still in my contract. Anything is possible."
Let's get one thing straight: If Sabathia has another great season for the Yankees, he's going to opt out. How do we know this? Because he's not an idiot.
In two seasons in New York, Sabathia is 40-15 with a 3.27 ERA. He finished third in the AL MVP voting last season. Let's be honest: considering the state of the Yankees' starting rotation, the Yankees need CC more than he needs them.
So if Sabathia puts together another great season, he'll either opt out of his his current contract and become a free agent, or use that possibility as leverage against the Yankees to add some more years and more dollars to his contract.
Sabathia isn't going to announce his decision during the playoffs, a la Alex Rodriguez, but he is going to opt out.
That said, if Sabathia becomes a free agent, the New York Mets have got to get on the phone and sign this guy. There are a million reasons why they should and almost no reasons why they shouldn't.
Sabathia is a workhorse, something the Mets probably wouldn't know what to do with if they had him. Sabathia has thrown a minimum of 230 innings in each of the last four seasons.
He's pitched through five trips into the postseason, granted to the tune of a 4.66 ERA, but he'd still be one of only two Mets' starters with postseason experience—the other being Johan Santana, of course.
Sabathia will turn 31 in July, so he's still well in his prime, making a long-term deal about as low-risk as they come.
And let's be honest: the Mets need to make a splash. The 2012 free-agent pool is thin on starting pitching, the Mets' biggest need, and bringing in Sabathia would give the Mets an immediate boost, not to mention they will have stolen the No. 1 starter of their cross-town rival.
When you start talking dollars, that's where things get a little difficult. Most recently, the Philadelphia Phillies signed ace Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract, far less than Sabathia's current deal. Lee will make just $11 million this season, but then it jumps to $21.5 million in 2012 and $25 million from 2013-2015.
If Lee is making $25 million at the age of 35, Sabathia certainly deserves as much at 32.
The Mets will have $55 to $60 million coming off the books after this season. They'll need to make a decision regarded shortstop Jose Reyes, but that could come during the season so we may have a clearer picture of the Mets' finances if they re-sign Reyes.
The other question is just how much of that available money will be reinvested in the team. Until the Piccard lawsuit is settled, we wont know what affect it will have on the team's operations. General Manager Sandy Alderson has also said that the Mets payroll is "significantly" higher than he'd like.
Right now, the Mets' payroll will be between $145 to $150 million. So what's the number they'd like to have—$125 million? $130 million?
Sabathia has another five years and $115 million left on his contract. Could the Mets afford to make that seven years and $180 million?
Johan Santana will make $22.5 million in 2011, $24 million in 2012 and $25.5 million in 2013. Combined with Sabathia's potential salary, and that's a lot of payroll committed to two players, something Alderson may not be in favor of.
But the Mets are more in need of a big move than almost every other team in baseball. Their fanbase is opting more and more to stay home instead of going to the games, they're looking at hundreds of millions being sent back to the victims of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, and every day that Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez remain on the roster, the team loses credibility.
And what would energize the fanbase more than adding a pitcher like CC Sabathia, especially when you take him from the Yankees, leaving their rotation in ruins?
If he becomes a free agent, should the Mets pursue Sabathia?
If Sabathia hits free agency, the Mets have to try to sign him. It's a no-brainer, guaranteed beneficial move. It gives the Mets one of the best one-two punches in baseball, with Sabathia and Santana at the top of their rotation, and a hugely popular New York baseball player to energize the fanbase.
Sabathia has reportedly dropped 25 pounds to start this season; he's going to have a great year once again. That means he's going to opt-out of his contract and he's going to want more money and more years.
The Mets have to give it to him.