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MLB Free Agency 2012: Why the New York Yankees Must Keep CC Sabathia

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IOctober 14, 2011

MLB Free Agency 2012: Why the New York Yankees Must Keep CC Sabathia

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    New York Yankees' left-handed starting pitcher CC Sabathia must stay in the Bronx if the team plans to contend in 2012.

    Sabathia has an option to opt-out of the final four years of his seven-year, $161 million deal, signed prior to the 2009 season. If he does, any team with spending money will be in pursuit.

    The perennial American League Cy Young Award candidate—and one-time winner—is figuratively and literally the biggest piece of the Yankee puzzle.

    Here are some reasons why CC Sabathia needs to be retained. 

Uncertainty Beyond CC

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    The non-Sabathia components of the Yankees' starting rotation are barely acceptable.

    Let's begin with AJ Burnett, who was given a lofty, long-term deal in early 2009 just like the big man. Burnett has grossly under-performed, though, with a losing record even after three seasons in concert with New York's prolific offense. He is easy for opposing baserunners to steal against, poor with his location and clearly weakening as is supported by his annual decline in fastball velocity.

    Meanwhile, rookie starter Ivan Nova had a remarkable season in 2011. The Yankees' experienced, sure-handed infield perfectly complimented his tendency to produce ground balls.

    Nova was a sparkling 12-0 in his final 16 outings! Still, he cannot be depended on at this point in his career. Not until it's clear that he can adjust to adversity and avoid a "sophomore slump."

    Phil Hughes was an enigma. His frustrating "dead arm" period at the onset of the regular season irreparably damaged his statistics and sent the skeptics into a tizzy.

    Hughes finished the season as a reliever and fell ions short of his 200-inning expectation.

    Finally, there were the one-and-dones, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Both had their share of strong starts, particularly Garcia, who stayed in the rotation into the playoffs.

    However, Colon and Garcia don't last into the later innings. Durability is a concern due to their advanced ages. Count on the Yankees to let them leave this winter.

Consistent Dominance as an MLB Starter

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    Sabathia is the only potentially available starting pitcher who fully epitomizes this slide title. Comparisons should be drawn between Sabathia and other free agents because with New York's "Killer B's" (Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances) not quite ready to join the rotation, his replacement would be brought in from outside the organization. 

    Mark Buehrle—who I praised in an earlier article—is dependable from year to year. Buehrle has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last 11 seasons. Not even Sabathia can claim that.

    On the other hand, Buehrle is anything but dominant. Unlike Sabathia, he is not capable of timely strikeouts. He also surrenders far too many base hits.

    CJ Wilson will be highly coveted this winter, too. This past season was his best yet, following a solid 2010 campaign. If recent contracts given to top-flight starters are of any indication, Wilson can expect at least five years and $90 million from the highest bidder.

    However, he cannot be trusted like Sabathia because of his relative inexperience as a starter. Wilson has pitched only 73 MLB regular season games in the role, laughable in contrast to Sabathia's total of 355.

    Also, Japanese phenom Yu Darvish is garnering a lot of attention. At 25 years old, Darvish has wreaked havoc overseas with an outstanding repertoire of pitches. No other Asian baseball player has ever drawn so much interest around the majors.

    Alas, he would be an inadequate substitute for New York's hefty lefty. "Beasts from the East" like Daisuke Matsuaka and Kazuo Matsui have disappointed before. Success doesn't always translate from Japan to the U.S.

    None of these alternatives could help the New York Yankees as much as Sabathia does.

Durability (Innings Pitched and Games Started)

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    This is the area in which Sabathia best separates himself from the herd.

    He led all of MLB with 1,199 innings pitched during the last five regular seasons. Only the Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay approached that total.

    Then, factor in what CC Sabathia has done in the playoffs. He has participated in each of the last five, totaling 80 additional innings, six wins and a World Series championship. Once again, only a Philadelphia Philly—in this case Cole Hamels—can relate.

    Sabathia similarly ranked No. 1 in the majors in games started at 170 from 2007-2011. So, from both a nightly and season-long perspective, he stays in the game.

    His massive frame would be a handicap at any other position, but on the mound, it's an assurance that he won't wilt.

Presence

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    Sabathia's size does more than just hold him steady.

    It is used to intimidate. No other active players—and few in the history of the sport—physically out-measure him. Sabathia is a unique weapon against large, left-handed sluggers, not just because of his mid-90s fastball and filthy slider, but in part because there is no other starter in baseball with whom to draw comparisons.

    His effect on the fans cannot be overlooked, either. Sabathia is a must-have for the New York Yankees because he is considered a must-see for many of their supporters.

    They marvel at his combination of ability and individuality. They come to Yankee Stadium to see him specifically as much as Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera or any other individual.

    The expense of keeping Sabathia is out-weighed by the revenue and awareness he generates for the ball club. I'm sure the Yankees' front office realizes his true value, but ultimately, this decision is Sabathia's.

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