Yankees make Sabathia top target
The Yankees are willing to go beyond the $137.5 million deal Johan Santana got
Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez are also on the Yankees' radar screen
Pitchers A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez could also be targeted
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Determined to overhaul and upgrade their skimpy starting rotation, the Yankees have made superstar free agent CC Sabathia their top winter target and, once baseball's quiet period expires, intend to offer him a contract to top the record $137.5 million that the Mets gave Johan Santana last year, according to people familiar with the Yankees' plans.
The incumbent Brewers extended to Sabathia a very respectable offer for about $100 million, and at least the Dodgers and Angels may also heavily compete for the Vallejo, Calif., native. But baseball people at the general manager meetings here see the Yankees as attempting to blow away the field for Sabathia. Santana's record deal for a pitcher is over six years.
No outside offers can by made to Sabathia or any other free agent for 15 days after the scheduled end of the World Series (Nov. 14 this year). But while Sabathia may talk dollars with only the Brewers now and has said he doesn't plan to drag out this mega-derby, it's very unlikely that he would take a quick under-market deal from Milwaukee even though he has said many times that he loved pitching and living there. The Brewers stepped up to make that bid, and they should be commended for it, but one executive with a big-market club derisively referred to their bid as nothing more than "window dressing.''
Sabathia is believed to prefer living in California and playing and hitting in the National League. But it's also a very rare star free agent who has rejected the highest offer. There's a divergence of opinion as to what Sabathia will do, but his friend Jimmy Rollins told SI.com last week that he thinks Sabathia will go to the Yankees, and yet another friend of Sabathia's said on Sunday, "He wants the big stage. He's not afraid of it at all.''
Boosted by the new Yankee Stadium, revenues that are expected to skyrocket even in a flagging economy, the potential of about $80 million in player payroll coming off their books and driven by their first non-playoff season since before the Joe Torre era, the Yankees will also make plays for superstar first baseman Mark Teixeira and outfielder and hitting savant Manny Ramirez, a longtime Yankee killer (and in 2008 a Red Sox killer, as well), and haven't ruled out signing one of those two sluggers along with Sabathia.
Meanwhile, the Yankees' efforts to upgrade their pitching staff won't stop with Sabathia, either, and sources say they may try for as many as three new star starting pitchers. "We're not going to be one and done. We need multiple,'' Yankees GM Brian Cashman told a group of writers on Monday. With Phil Hughes struggling in the Arizona Fall League, the only certain starters currently on their roster are Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain (and Joba isn't a proven full-year starter).
Indeed, the Yankees will make a strong play for A.J. Burnett, who's expected to opt out of the remaining two years on his Blue Jays contract, perhaps by the end of the week, and also make runs at Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez, the talented Mets pitcher whom his old team is hoping to keep with a three-year contract. The Yankees are investigating Ben Sheets, as well, but seem somewhat reluctant to go all in for Sheets if they can't allay their fears about the soundness of the injury-plagued pitcher's health.
The Yankees' interest in Sabathia is known to be so keen that the Mets, who beat their crosstown rival to Santana last winter, are disinclined from even engaging in what they see as an un-winnable bidding war. The Angels and Dodgers, who have a geographic advantage (Sabathia is from Vallejo in Northern California but has considered moving to Southern California), probably won't be discouraged from competing with the Yankees but can't quite match the Yankees' resources or probably even their resolve. Both the Angels and Dodgers have deeply divided interests, as well, as they badly hope to retain Teixeira and Ramirez, respectively.
With a newly strengthened emphasis on youth, the Yankees seem even more enthused about several of the free-agent pitchers, starting with Sabathia, than they are regarding possible returns for their own free-agent pitchers Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. Mussina stunned folks by posting his first 20-win season in 2008 and remains a possibility to come back -- though it's clear that the Yankees aren't counting on him (he has told friends he may retire). Pettitte has informed the Yankees he would like to return, but Yankees people may be waiting on word from Mussina before deciding whether to consider Pettitte's offer.