ESPN: Yankees, Sabathia close to deal

December 10, 2008 8:53:22 AM PST
The Yankees are "very close" to a preliminary agreement with Sabathia on Wednesday morning, following an in-person meeting between GM Brian Cashman and Sabathia in California, a baseball source with knowledge of the deal told Nothing less than greatness will be expected from CC Sabathia. It's the bargain you strike when you choose to play in New York, writes Buster Olney. Blog While a deal is not done, the source said there are "zero major road blocks" that would prevent the Yankees from reaching agreement with 28-year-old lefthander. Not all terms of the deal are agreed to yet, the source indicated. Sabathia also would need to take a physical.

In order to get the deal completed, ESPN the Magazine's Buster Olney reports that the Yankees added a seventh year to their original six-year, $140-million offer, bringing the total package to seven years and $160 million -- by far the biggest contract for any pitcher in history.

The New York Post first reported Wednesday on its Web site that Sabathia, the prize of this year's free-agent class, had decided to go with the Yankees after fielding offers from a number of teams.

The Yankees had extended a six-year, $140-million offer to Sabathia nearly a month ago and were beginning to get nervous that he simply didn't want to pitch in New York. But two days of face-to-face meetings with the Yankees in Las Vegas, followed by Cashman's session Tuesday night with Sabathia and his wife Amber in California, sealed this deal.

"He's now excited about becoming a Yankee," a source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.

Sabathia had been courted by the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Francisco Giants and the Boston Red Sox. The Los Angeles Dodgers said that Sabathia, who lives in California, had expressed interest in playing there, too, although the team did not publicly make him an offer.

But in the end, it was clear that no other team was going to come close to what the Yankees offered. That was despite varying signals from the Dodgers -- owner Frank McCourt reached out to Sabathia personally -- as well as the Giants, who had talked about meeting with Sabathia this weekend, and the Los Angeles Angels.

To the Yankees, Sabathia was more than just the No. 1 prize on the free-agent market. He was the centerpiece of their entire offseason game plan. They went into the winter determined to add Sabathia and two other free-agent starters.

They have also aggressively pursued A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe and Ben Sheets, and have made a one-year, $10-million offer to retain Andy Pettitte. So a rotation of Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang and those two free-agent starters to be named later puts the Yankees in prime position to return to the postseason for the first time in two years.

But without Sabathia, that rotation would have had a whole different look. And had the Yankees not been able to land him, they might have shifted philosophies and made a major play for the biggest bats on the market, Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez.

In fact, the Yankees had begun to send signals that if Sabathia didn't accept their offer soon, they were ready to pull it off the table and move on. But all that became a moot point late Tuesday night, when Cashman was able to satisfy the Sabathias that they could play and live happily in New York.

Sabathia, who was dealt by the Cleveland Indians to the Brewers before last season's trade deadline, went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in Milwaukee, carrying the Brewers into their first playoff appearance since 1982.

He has a career record of 117-73 and a 3.66 ERA in eight big league seasons, mostly with the Indians. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 2007, going 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA as the Indians reached the AL Championship Series that season.

Friends of Sabathia have been making clear for some time now that had one of the west-coast teams been able to make an offer close to the Yankees' bid, Sabathia almost certainly would have taken it.

"He's one guy, I'm absolutely convinced, whose decision will not be about getting the last dollar," one long-time friend of Sabathia said earlier this week. "That's not the way he thinks. This isn't a business decision for him. This is a life decision. So if he chooses New York, it will be because he wants to be there, not because they were the team that offered the most money."

As it turned out, however, the Yankees offered by far the most money.

The Brewers made a five-year, $100-million offer, but with much of the money deferred. The Giants, according to sources, never made a formal offer, but indicated they could be willing to extend a bid slightly lower than the Brewers' offer if the deal was structured carefully.

The Dodgers and Angels were interested but had other priorities. And while Sabathia and his agent, Greg Genske, met with the Red Sox during their visit to Las Vegas, the Red Sox never loomed as serious bidders.

So in the end, there was a vast economic difference between the Yankees' offer and anything else on the table. Yet Sabathia still couldn't bring himself to agree until he and his wife had convinced themselves that New York was the right place for them to play, live and raise a family.

By the time Brian Cashman walked out their door late Tuesday night, those doubts had melted, and his team's mission was accomplished. CC Sabathia was going to become a Yankee.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney contributed to this report.