CC Sabathia will be a Yankee again in 2012, and having him back in their starting rotation certainly makes the Yankees a better team than they would have been without him.
But does it make them a better team than they were at the end of 2011?
No. Right now, it makes them the same team, only a year older. And the team they were in 2011 couldn’t get out of the American League Division Series.
Sabathia and the Yankees averted the mutually dreaded opt-out Monday evening, agreeing to a contract extension that will pay CC a minimum of $30 million more than he was already getting, and could keep him on the mound at Yankee Stadium beyond his 37th birthday.
We already know how most of those type of deals, especially for starting pitchers, work out, but this is not a day to dwell on the long-term consequences of short-term solutions.
The Yankees are really no different from the rest of the country when it comes to stockpiling debt and acquisitions, with one important difference: Whenever the real bill comes due on CC — and on Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett for that matter, be it five years from now or next spring — the Yankees will have the money to pay it.
So that is not really much of a concern.
The concern that faces the Yankees today is the same one that faced them heading into the 2011 season, and the 2011 ALDS, and will no doubt face them heading into spring training.
After CC, who is going to do the rest of the pitching?
And even with CC, will the Yankees be as good next year as they were this year, which was not good enough?
Right now, the 2012 starting rotation stands as Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Burnett, and perhaps a rejuvenated Phil Hughes.
But Freddy Garcia, who won a surprising 12 games last season, and Bartolo Colon, who added eight more, are not likely to be back. To the end of the season, Hughes still showed no sign of being the pitcher who won 18 games for the Yankees in 2010, and despite all the happy talk surrounding his OK performance in the playoffs in emergency duty, Burnett remains Burnett.
That means the burden remains on the shoulders of Sabathia, who despite putting up excellent final numbers once again — 19-8, a 3.00 ERA and 237 1/3 innings pitched — was nowhere near the same pitcher at the end of the season that he had been at the beginning.
Some attributed it to Sabathia’s slow and steady weight gain throughout the season. Others to the normal fatigue of having thrown nearly 1,200 innings, and more than 18,000 pitches since 2007. During the season, Sabathia himself blamed the six-man rotation the Yankees used over the final two months of the season, a departure from routine that he clearly detested.
For whatever the reason, Sabathia, while still an excellent pitcher, was in no way a dominant pitcher in 2011.
On a conference call Monday night to announce the deal, Sabathia was asked to explain his late-season decline.
“I felt great at the end of the year, to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t know about fatigue. I can’t answer that question. I mean, I don’t know. I’m not gonna sit here and say the change in my routine had anything to do with the last month. It was just, you know, it is what it is.”
The problem is, no one seems to know what it was.