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Yankees 2011 Spring Training: What Is CC Sabathia Thinking?

Would New York Yankees ace pitcher CC Sabathia really exercise the opt-out clause in his seven-year, $161 million contract after this season, thus becoming a free agent again? Sabathia hinted at the possibility Monday during the first day of Yankees Spring Training, saying "anything's possible."

The comment drew plenty of reaction.

Here is part of what SB Nation's Rob Neyer had to say:

... you can hardly blame Sabathia for milking the Yankees for every last possible dollar. I don't think the Yankees would even blame him for that.

My only question is how many more millions of dollars he figures to milk.

While Cliff Lee will make $25 million from 2013 through '15, and -- barring major injury or contract extension -- another $27.5 million in 2016, he's making "only" $11 million this year and $21.5 million next year. The Average Annual Value (AAV) of Lee's deal is $24 million. (Oh, and Roy Halladay's AAV is only $20 million.)

Johan Santana's AAV with the Mets is slightly lower, $22.9 million.

And Sabathia? His seven-year, $161 million deal works out to a $23 million AAV.

None of this is coincidental. Essentially, the franchises with bulging wallets have decided, over the last couple of years anyway, that the very best pitchers -- with Halladay excepted -- are worth roughly $24 million on the open market. Almost exactly what Sabathia's slated to earn in each of the next five seasons.

Will he quibble over a lousy million bucks? Is he merely angling to earn one dollar more than Cliff Lee, and become the game's best-paid pitcher?

I doubt it. If anything, I think he's angling for bigger fish. Why settle for earning $25,000,001 per season when you could earn $26 million? $27 million? Who knows? It's not like the Yankees won't be able to afford it. And whether they finish in first place or third this season, they'll probably be desperate for a starting pitcher next season.

Mark Feinsand of the Daily News said basically the same thing:

Here's my question: Why WOULDN'T Sabathia opt out?

The clause was put in his contract to protect him in case he didn't like pitching in New York. As you may remember, Sabathia was a West Coast guy and everybody - Brian Cashman included - believed the big man wanted to pitch close to his home in Vallejo.

So in order to seal the deal before a team like the Angels got involved, Cashman gave Sabathia the opt-out. You don't like it in New York? You can leave after three years.

That hasn't been the case at all. Sabathia loves pitching for the Yankees, loves living in Alpine, N.J., and doesn't seem to have any desire to leave. But given a pitching market that saw Cliff Lee sign for five years and $120 million at the age of 32, why wouldn't Sabathia become a free agent at 31 and pick up two or three extra years at $23-24 million per year?

There's no reason.

I would have to agree with both Neyer and Feinsand. Opting out would not necessarily mean Sabathia wants to leave the Bronx. It just means baseball is a business, Sabathia got the opt-out clause for a reason, he knows there won't be any pitchers available as good as he is, that the Yankees can afford to pony up a few million extra for him and that they absolutely can't afford to see him go elsewhere.

The Yankees took enough hits on the starting pitching front this season with Andy Pettitte retiring and Cliff Lee going to Philadelphia. If they follow their current plan they will be breaking in one or two more of their highly-touted youngsters, and they will need an innings-eating ace to anchor the top of the rotation.

The Yankees will do what they have to in order to keep Sabathia is his very large (though not quite as large as they used to be) pinstripes.