Milwaukee Brewers: Frontrunners for CC Sabathia?

Right Field BleachersCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2008

The Brewers may be closing in on a deal to resign ace CC Sabathia, according to George A. King III of the New York Post:

Prior to Yankee GM Brian Cashman’s meeting with CC Sabathia yesterday in Las Vegas, there was a feeling in the baseball universe the stud free-agent lefty would eventually re-sign with the Brewers.

Since the Yankees’ six-year, $140 million has been in front of Sabathia for more than a month, there are reasons he hasn’t taken it. A popular theory is, he doesn’t want to work in The Bronx.

Another is that his wife, Amber, is encouraging him to wait for an offer from a West Coast team that may not be coming - that is, unless the Bay Area product wants to work cheap for the Giants.

Now, there is talk of the Brewers, who have offered five years for $100 million, exploring ways to entice the 28-year-old Sabathia, who went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts after being acquired from the Indians.

According to a source who has talked to the Brewers, the club has enough money to sweeten the pot and offer “contract flexibility” that could include an opt-out clause after three seasons.

The Yankees have believed it’s been between them and the Brewers for a while. The Angels and Giants are looking for hitters before pitchers.

First off, don’t get your hopes up too high yet since these free agent stories tend to change day to day, but wow…talk about an underdog sports story if it is true. The small market Brewers go toe-to-toe with the New York Yankees, offer less money, and still could come out with the top prize in the free agent market (and the Yankees top target)?

I haven’t even mentioned beating out CC’s home state teams. While there is no concrete info suggesting any of the California teams made an offer, there is no doubt they’d love to have CC, too. They seemingly can’t contend with the money the Brewers (and Yankees) put out there.

There are certainly two sides to this…this is a very significant risk for the Brewers if CC does sign with Milwaukee. They’d likely be sinking about 40 percent of their payroll into one player. And that player is a starting pitcher. Not only does he only toss the ball once every five games, he also plays at a position that is most susceptible to injury.

The Brewers can get away with this for a couple of reasons. First, the team has noted CC is an exception. They would not do this for any other player. He is a special talent and they are breaking from their plans to try to acquire him.

The Brewers are also in a unique position. They have their best player, Ryan Braun, locked up to an affordable long-term deal. Braun and Sabathia is a great foundation for any team to build on. The Brewers would have one of the best position players and one of the best starters in all of baseball in their prime.

They also have young starters that will be with the team for a number of years (Parra and Gallardo) and highly regarded prospects to bolster the offense (Escobar, Gamel, and Salome).

A CC signing could mean players like Fielder, Hardy, Weeks, Hart, and Bush will be traded or let go in free agency as their arbitration years come to an end, but the Brewers should be able to field a competitive team with the cheaper alternatives they are developing now and the players they’ll acquire through trades, draft picks and compensation picks.

It will also help the team financially when the contracts of Cameron (signed through this year), Hall (signed through 2010), and Suppan (signed through 2010) expire.

One of the pieces of information standing out in the story above is the “contract flexibility," which could include an opt-out clause after three seasons. That would not be particularly good for the Brewers, because it means if Sabathia performs as an ace and the contract ends up being “good” for the Brewers, he’ll likely opt out after three years so he can cash in on free agency again.

If he underperforms, the market for free agent pitchers goes down or he becomes injury prone, he won’t opt out and the Brewers would be stuck with a “bad contract.” The latter scenario is obviously the worst-case scenario and is the risk for the Brewers. And that risk is there with the opt-out clause or without it.

Sabathia opting out of the contract after three years would not be ideal for the Brewers either since CC would likely be earning his contract as an ace in that scenario and the Brewers would only have him for three years instead of six.

But would that be so bad? We’d get three more years of an elite player and the team would still get the comp picks for him at that time if he left. Plus, it’s obvious money is not everything to CC and he could end up staying in Milwaukee for less than market value (or renegotiating with the Brewers) instead of opting out.

So, there are risks… But who cares? We’re fans. It’s not our financial risk if the Brewers ink Sabathia. It’s Mark A’s and the Brewers management. What Brew Crew backer out there doesn’t want to see the enormous lefty we fell in love with last season take the mound for our team again?

It’s hard to believe the Sabathia/Brewers match would always be as exciting and productive as it was down the stretch of the 2008 season, but it’s also hard to believe Sabathia isn’t the kind of player that can be the heart of a team and will them to success.

Hold your breath because for all we know CC and his agent are working on the final details of his Bronx Bomber contract, but if the rumors are true and the Brewers are nearing a contract with Sabathia, it’s time for fans to celebrate the most significant signing in their team's history.