It’s almost time for pitchers and catchers to report and spring training to officially start, and it wouldn’t be early February without some overly optimistic stories. Each year at this time, the fairy tales that “(Player Name) is in the best shape of his life” or “(Player Name) feels the best he has in (number) years” are written. And who better to start up this round of stories than CC Sabathia?
“I feel the best I have in three years. I am excited to get to Tampa with a clear head and a healthy body.”
That’s what Sabathia texted to the New York Post on Tuesday after a workout, and in two simple sentences, Sabathia has given a lot of false hope to those who believe him. I don’t.
Last season, I did over/unders for the Yankees, and for Sabathia I set his ERA at over/under 4.50. Here’s what I said:
Sabathia is going to need to find a way to get outs without overpowering hitters the way his former teammate Andy Pettitte and supposed best friend Cliff Lee were able to do. (Let’s hope he talked to them.) Given the health concerns of Tanaka and Pined every pitch they throw, Sabathia is going to need to be relied on. That makes me uncomfortable, but … optimism!
Yes, I took the under and believed that a former ace making $25 million could pitch to a quality start ERA. He finished the year with a 4.73 ERA. It was down from his 5.28 in 2014 and his 4.78 in 2013, but it was nowhere near the 3.22 he posted in his first four years with the Yankees.
Sabathia once again let Yankees fans down as if was once again unable to turn into former teammate Andy Pettitte or supposed best friend Cliff Lee and instead tried to sneak fastballs past hitters sitting on his mid-to-high-80s stuff. He put together back-to-back quality starts three times in 29 starts and never had three in a row. It was another disappointing season from the former Cy Young winner, who lost his first four starts and didn’t get his first win until May 11 to improve to 1-5, as he didn’t win in April, won twice in May, once in June, once in July, didn’t win in August and won twice in September.
So now on Feb. 9, after having not pitched since Oct. 1, four months ago, and having spent a month in rehab for alcohol abuse, Sabathia says he feels the best he has in three years. Of course he does! He hasn’t pitched in 131 days and finally received treatment for what he said had been an ongoing problem. He’s never going to feel as good as he does right now before pitchers and catchers report and before the daily grind of being a soon-to-be 36-year-old Major League pitcher sets in.
My biggest question from Sabathia’s two sentences, is what he means by “three years.” If he means calendar years, well, three years ago right now he was about to begin a season in which he went 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA and led the league in earned runs. If he means seasons, then OK, because three seasons ago was his 2012 season when he went 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA and beat the Orioles twice in the ALDS. (Better known as his last good season.)
Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York wrote that Sabathia is “fighting” for his job in the rotation, which couldn’t be any less true, so I tweeted that I hope no one really thinks Sabathia’s rotation spot is in question.
I hope no one really thinks CC Sabathia is fighting for a rotation spot when he's owed $25 million this year. https://t.co/YZWebtIwc1
— Neil Keefe (@NeilKeefe) February 10, 2016
When I tweeted Matthews about how ridiculous of a concept that was, he replied:
What difference does that make? The money's already spent. If he can't cut it, he won't be in the rotation. Period https://t.co/GXyONY2Sht
— wallace matthews (@ESPNNYYankees) February 10, 2016
So then, I replied:
I wish that were the case but he stayed in rotation last year when he couldn't cut it and Warren went to the bullpen https://t.co/P0OIEHg1XX
— Neil Keefe (@NeilKeefe) February 10, 2016
That’s the truth. If Sabathia could remain in the 2015 rotation despite having an ERA of at least five until Sept. 14 and having just four wins in 26 starts through Sept. 14, while Adam Warren was sent to the bullpen, why would anyone think that Sabathia would be fighting for his job this season, against Ivan Nova of all pitchers? As long as Sabathia keeps making about $700,000 per start, which he will make this season AND next season, he’s going to start.
For the guy who basically won every five days for four years, he has now held Jorge Posada’s former title as the Yankees’ family dog for three seasons. If you forgot what I wrote about Posada in 2010 and 2011, well …
Posada is like the aging family dog that just wanders around aimlessly and goes to the bathroom all over the place and just lies around and sleeps all day. You try to pretend like the end isn’t near and you try to remember the good times to get through the bad times, and once in a while the dog will do something to remind you of what it used to be, but it’s just momentary tease.
Take out Posada and insert Sabathia and you have 2013-2015 Sabathia and what we will once again get in 2016 for $25 million and unfortunately again in 2017 for $25 million.
As the family dog, I’m sure Sabathia will give us a few throwback performances this season. Maybe he’ll beat the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball or outpitch Matt Harvey at Yankee Stadium. Maybe he’ll retire Jose Bautista with the bases loaded or get Adam Jones to ground into a double play to hold a lead in a big spot. There will be times when Sabathia makes you think it’s 2009 or 2010 or 2011 or 2012 again, but they will be rare. Don’t believe what he texted the Post. It pains me to say again, but like I said last June, CC Sabathia is done.