Leitch: Spendthrift Yanks Sign Sabathia for a Worryingly Long Seven Years

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"Winnie Cooper is never going to like me in this stupid hat." Photo: Getty Images

How much of a financial advantage do the Yankees have over every team in baseball, or even organized sport as a whole? By most every account, CC Sabathia had little desire to come to New York. He was worried about having his family here and wanted to stay near his home in Southern California, a low-stress environment. So the Yankees offered him dramatically more than anyone else — $140 million over six years. (The Brewers were supposedly willing to put up $110 million.) And still Sabathia told the Dodgers’ general manager earlier this week that he wanted to sign with his team. According to ESPN, the Yankees then offered Sabathia $160 million over the next seven years. That, unsurprisingly, finally worked.

This deal would make Sabathia the most highly paid pitcher in major-league history — and the second most highly paid Yankee. (Sabathia would actually be making more money than Jeter; when the contract is finalized, the Yankees will have the three highest-paid players in the game.) It’s the fourth-largest contract in baseball history. (The top three: Alex Rodriguez, Rodriguez again, and Jeter.) The Yankees needed to pull out all the stops to get Sabathia, and apparently they have. This is what new stadiums and cable channels are for.

Sabathia has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball over the last two years, but seven years is an awful long time to commit to someone playing that position. The list of pitchers who have gotten seven or more years is small, and gruesome. The last two were Mike Hampton in 2000 (eight years) and Barry Zito in 2006 (seven). Hampton’s deal finally went off the book last year (three teams later), and Zito’s going to be the Giants’ albatross through 2013. Johan Santana received a six-year extension from the Mets after they traded for him, for a total of $137.5 million. The first year worked out great. There are five more. With pitchers, it’s never a matter of if they break down, but when. And most of them don’t weigh nearly 300 pounds. Sabathia’s conditioning makes the notion of a seven-year deal worrisome at best, terrifying at worst. Can you imagine a 34-year-old Sabathia in 2014 — by then maybe 350 pounds — being booed off the mound after wearing out in the fourth inning of a 100-degree day in the Bronx? And that’s assuming his arm holds up.

All that said, what the Yankees really need is a championship, and Sabathia gives them the best chance to do that next season, and probably the year after, before his body inevitably breaks down. If they win a championship because of Sabathia, no one will care about the end of that contract. Not that they’re done, of course. The Yankees still have plenty of money to spend and are said to be eyeing both A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe, and are still flirting with the idea of bringing in first-baseman Mark Teixiera, if only to keep him away from Boston. Those pitchers are even older than Sabathia, albeit in better shape, and though they won’t require seven years to sign, they’ll probably need at least four. The Yankees are spending money like crazy this off-season (something they knew they had to do all along). So you better like these guys. You’re going to be watching them for a long, long time.