Over the last three seasons there haven't been many better pitchers in baseball than C.C. Sabathia. This off season Sabathia can be a free agent as the seven year, $161 million contract he signed with the Yankees three years ago includes an opt-out clause after the third year. If he chose not to opt out, Sabathia will effectively be playing under a four year, $92 million contract.
So the question is, can he do better on the open market and without even ending this sentence the answer is clearly yes. Last year a 32 year old Cliff Lee got a five year $120 million deal from Philadelphia. Next season, Sabathia will be 31 years old and so, unless something huge happens to the market, he should receive similar deal. Not opting out would leave roughly $30 million on the table which is insane. Nobody leaves that sitting on the table, on a chair, on the back of the toilet, or anywhere. Nor should they.
According to Fan Graphs, Sabathia has been worth $81.9 million over the past three seasons. Those were his age 28-30 seasons, so it's reasonable to think that over the next five years Sabathia will decline slightly each year. Over the past three years Sabathia has been worth just over 6 fWAR per season. If we subtract a half win per year (0.5 fWAR) going forward, valuing a win at $4.5 million nets a seven year deal worth $142 million. If a win is worth $5 million the seven year deal jumps to $158 million.
Boston already has $126 million committed to next year's payroll, and that is without pay raises for players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard. Some players on long term deals will also receive contractually obligatory raises (though those are included in the above figure). For example, Carl Crawford's salary jumps from $14 million to $20.3 and Adrian Gonzalez goes from $6 million to $21 million as his long term deal kicks in. However, the Red Sox will have some payroll relief as J.D. Drew's contract expires along with those of David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon. Combined those players were paid a shade over $38 million last season.
So the team will have some money to spend. Should the Red Sox make Sabathia a good offer?
Luring Sabathia 400 miles north would mean a commitment in terms of money and years that the current residents of Boston's front office have been reluctant to approach for any other pitcher. Sabathia will likely cost between $20 and $25 million a year. Given the fact that he will have be wooed from a division rival we'd better be conservative and say $25 million and, considering the offers for Cliff Lee last winter, at least seven years.
Crazy as the numbers sound, there are reasons to advocate for such a signing. For one, it would effectively cover up the holes in the starting rotation. A starting staff fronted by Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz is nothing to sneeze at, but after that the Red Sox are facing the same problems as at the end of this past season. If the top three stay healthy the identity of the number four and five starters might not matter. But before pinning the 2012 Red Sox success on the health of their top three starters, answer this: when was the last time the Red Sox got through a season without at least a few of their top starters missing serious time? While you're thinking of that, mentally snack on a 46 year old Tim Wakefield and last year's version of John Lackey throwing meaningful innings in 2012. It sounds like a recipe for more broken television sets to me. The Red Sox minor league system isn't going to magically start producing pitchers next year either.
So there is a need. Unless you believe Doubront can stay healthy and Lackey can discover a magic swamp with non-suck mud that he can smear all over his na... well, you get the picture. Unless you want Tim Wakefield to eat innings and games at the same time, someone will have to be brought in from outside the organization. The rest of the free agent class is an uninspiring lot. After Sabathia C.J. Wilson and maybe Yu Darvish are the only potential top of the rotation starters in the bunch. Wilson is a fine pitcher but his track record is short for a guy who will be looking for $100 million. Darvish could be Felix Hernandez but then he could be Daisuke Matsuzaka. Do the Red Sox want to take that chance again?
Sabathia is as sure a thing as free agent starting pitching gets. He's not young but he's not old. He's a work horse, but he has the body to take that pounding. Sure, any pitch could end up being his last, but that's a risk you take with all pitchers.
In Boston Sabathia would step into the front of the Red Sox rotation, giving them the rotation they thought they had last year. There would be no need to hurry Matsuzaka back from Tommy John surgery, no need to hurry John Lackey back from Timbuktu where I presume the team is sending him on a long vacation as soon as he can pack his bags, no need to mess around with talented time bombs like Erik Bedard or Rich Harden, and no need to pay for known mediocrities like Jon Garland or Joel Pineiro. As a nice side bonus, it would weaken one of the Red Sox primary competitors for the division title.
Given their resources and desperation for starting pitching, chances are good Sabathia re-signs with the Yankees. But the chances are very good he'll opt out whether he intends to stay in New York or not. When he does he'll be a free agent and I have a hard time believing he won't listen to other offers. So what do you say, OTM? Think the Sox should go after Sabathia?