Sabathia enters walk year in line for a big raise
Posted: Monday March 3, 2008 1:32PM; Updated: Tuesday March 4, 2008 1:23AM
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LAKELAND, Fla. -- If this is the farewell tour in Cleveland for reigning American League Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia, the Indians and their still-only-27-year-old left-hander are determined to make it as joyful and painless a final season as possible. While making no other guarantees, a smiling Sabathia promised to have a fun season, whether it be the finale or not.
When a reporter suggested that this was a "tough situation'' to be in, Sabathia looked at the fellow like he was an alien (which is possibly even lower than a sportswriter).
"Why's that?'' Sabathia said, smiling wide. "It's a great position to be in.''
Indeed, Sabathia knows that unlike an October matchup with Boston, he can't lose here. The Indians, whom he loves, this winter offered a four-year extension believed to be worth close to $20 million a year, which would have bumped his contract to five years and about $90 million. Meanwhile, Sabathia, who is to make $11.25 million this year, is thought to be seeking a significantly longer deal at $100 million-plus, exactly the sort of contract that would stretch the Indians' budget, which has been cleverly kept to the lower end of the mid-market range.
The Indians are among the best in the game in recent years at convincing their stars, like DH Travis Hafner, to stay long-term at unusually reasonable rates -- even GM Mark Shapiro practiced what he advocates by signing his own five-year contract to remain rather than test the free-agent market. But whatever transpired in talks with Sabathia's representatives back in December seemed to convince some intimates that his chances to remain beyond this season are less than exceptional. Someone connected to the Indians lamented to me shortly after those talks in December, "No way he stays.''
However, top Indians executives refuse to characterize their chances quite that pessimistically. "We'll always remain hopeful,'' said assistant GM Chris Antonetti."But at this point we both felt there wasn't enough common ground to continue dialogue during spring training.''
And Shapiro said, "I believe C.C. does want to be here, and we want him here. But obviously, I'm not naive enough to think there may not be someone out there willing to exceed our threshold for risk.''
"Sure,'' Sabathia answered without hesitation in answer to the $100 million question of whether he wants to remain an Indian. "I've been here since I'm 17 years old. I just don't feel like this is the right time to discuss anything like that. It's tough enough to pitch. I just want to play, and have fun.''
Sabathia has been a big winner, is coming off his best year (19-7, 3.21 ERA) and has never been seriously hurt. Yet, the Indians are well aware that not one $100 million deal for a pitcher has proved to be a bargain yet (Mike Hampton, Kevin Brown, Barry Zito and the just-signed Johan Santana are the only four, and those last two names haven't had those contracts long enough to make a fair judgment.). And while Sabathia is also viewed as an unusually good person, it's fair to say he's also a special case, as there's no one like him; he's 6-foot-8 and about 300 pounds. "My genes are terrible,'' he admitted. "I have to work my ass off just to look like this.''