David J. Phillip / AP Enlarge
LAS VEGAS There is no recession for the New YorkYankees.
Flexing the economic muscle of their new billion-dollar ballpark and ignoring industry-wide nervousness over big-money deals, the Yankees landed the top free-agent pitcher when they agreed yesterday to the framework of a $161 million, seven-year contract with CC Sabathia.
The amount is a record for a pitcher and the fourth-highest ever in baseball. It signaled a new willingness by the Yankees to spend in an attempt to regain dominance and win the World Series for the first time since 2000.
I m sure every team in baseball would love to have him. He s a guy who s an intimidating factor on the mound, Yankees captain Derek Jeter said at the winter meetings.
Sabathia s contract figure seems quite appropriate in February the Yankees move across 161st Street in the Bronx to their monumental $1.3 billion palace, where tickets cost up to $2,500, fans can watch games at a martini bar and the clubhouse contains a swimming pool, hot tub and every imaginable convenience. The way the schedule lines up, there s a good chance Sabathia would pitch the opener there April 16 against Cleveland which traded him to Milwaukee last July.
It illustrates that baseball is a very different economic model than the real world, said Scott Boras, the agent for Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and other free agents also seeking big deals.
It s all subject on the physical, Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said. Obviously, we re going to try and get it done as fast as possible.
He called Sabathia our top choice, our main target.
We just got the best pitcher in baseball, he said.
As part of the deal, Sabathia even has the right to opt out after three seasons and become a free agent again.
I think it s a great deal for him and a great deal for the Yankees, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker said. I m sure he s going to help them win.
The two New York teams have made the biggest splashes in the slow-moving free-agent market. The Mets, moving into $800 million Citi Field, finalized their $37 million, three-year contract with closer Francisco Rodriguez yesterday.
While other teams worry about losing revenue General
Motors informed the Pittsburgh Pirates they were ending their sponsorship the New York teams appear to be awash with cash. The Yankees have the sport s three biggest current contracts, with Sabathia slotting behind Alex Rodriguez ($275 million for 10 years) and Derek Jeter ($189 million for 10 years).
New York hopes to re-sign Andy Pettitte, who also is a free agent, and has intensified talks this week for free-agent pitchers A.J. Burnett and Ben Sheets.
I think that would be expected. I think that s just the way it is, said Cleveland s Eric Wedge, Sabathia s old manager, while also noting: I think everybody has to be respectful to the economy and what people are going through. There s nobody who should be oblivious to it.
Burnett was told the Yankees would be prepared to give him five guaranteed years matching the length of Atlanta s offer.
K-Rod was acquired at a steep discount his agent had once talked of a five-year contract for perhaps $75 million. Sabathia got a contract as big as his body 6-foot-7 and nearly 300 pounds.
As a Yankees fan, we ve struggled the last few years with our pitching, our starting rotation, said the Cavaliers LeBron James, a friend of Sabathia s. It s good to get a pitcher in there that can make things happen and don t need many runs to win a ballgame.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman left Las Vegas on Tuesday for a quick trip to the pitcher s home in the San Francisco area, sparking the final stages of negotiations. Because the team is a stickler for details, such as contract guarantee language, he wasn t ready to acknowledge an agreement.
There s a lot of layers in the process. Until that process is completed I m kind of prevented from saying too much, Cashman said. You re never done until you re done, and so, we re not done.
Cashman made a six-yearoffer to the former AL Cy Young Award winner on Nov. 14, the first possible day to negotiate with free agents, and met with Sabathia in Las Vegas on Sunday and Monday. He had told the pitcher s agents that if it would be helpful, he was willing to travel to meet with the Sabathia and his family in California.
Sabathia s deal tops the previous mark for a pitcher, a $137.5 million, six-year contract agreed to by Johan Santana and the New York Mets last winter. His $23 million average salary is just ahead of Santana s $22.9 million
He s left-handed. He s a tremendous competitor. His talent is obvious, Cashman said. And he matches that with his character at the same time.
Sabathia joins a rotation that includes Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain. He went 11-2 for the Brewers after the trade and was a workhorse, throwing seven complete games and three shutouts in 17 starts.