First things first: the lefthander, who leads the majors with 14 wins and is on his way to a Cy Young Award, has gone five straight starts of at least seven innings each, not allowing more than one run.
Question is, how much is this going to cost the Yankees when Sabathia exercises the opt-out in his contract? He was awarded that clause as an incentive to sign a seven-year deal as a free agent in 2008 — the right to become a free agent after the third year.
Sabathia enjoys pitching for the Yankees, and there’s no glaring reason to believe he’ll actually leave. But, given that leverage, there’s no reason for him not to use it, either. Remember, Sabathia is two years younger than Cliff Lee, who will be earning $25 million a year starting in 2013.
The topic came up in spring training, and Sabathia’s non-answers were most revealing. When asked if he was leaving, staying or somewhere in between, Sabathia said, “I’m here” and cut off further questions.
Do the Yankees have second thoughts about being so vulnerable? Hardly, says GM Brian Cashman, who said, given the circumstances of Sabathia’s free agency after the ’08 season has “no regrets” about the generous language.
The reason, he says, should be obvious to any Yankee historian. The Bombers failed to make it to the playoffs that year, and were about to move into their new ballpark in 2009. The Steinbrenner family decided it would spend whatever was necessary to ensure a busy October in 2009, and gave Cashman the mandate to load up the roster.
So Cashman told Sabathia he could leave after three years if he didn’t like New York. The lefthander has since assimilated into the clubhouse, not to mention won his first World Series ring, which means the Bombers are confident he’ll remain in Pinstripes in 2012 and beyond
But for how much? Sabathia, who’ll soon turn 31, will likely ask for $26-$27 million a year for another seven years. The Yankees would be understandably wary of any contract that takes Sabathia that close to his 40th birthday - he's thrown more innings than any pitcher since 2007, and underwent knee surgery last winter. But what choice would the Steinbrenners have except to grant Sabathia's wish to become the richest pitcher in history?