LAS VEGAS -- There is no recession for the New York Yankees.
Flexing the economic muscle of their new billion-dollar ballpark and ignoring industrywide nervousness over big-money deals, the Yankees landed the top free-agent pitcher when they agreed Wednesday 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'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."
Steinbrenner 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 $69 million to become a free agent again. He also gets a full no-trade clause.
Most teams didn't think Sabathia's money would trickle down to others.
"That would be like saying Madonna sold her penthouse in Columbus Circle, so therefore that may have an impact on whether my house would sell in Danville," Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane said.
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 on Wednesday and acquired J.J. Putz from Seattle in a three-team, 12-player deal that included Cleveland, which obtained reliever Joe Smith from the Mets and 23-year-old second baseman Luis Valbuena from Seattle.
New York sent reliever Aaron Heilman, outfielder Endy Chavez, lefty Jason Vargas and three minor leaguers to the Mariners for Putz, center fielder Jeremy Reed and reliever Sean Green in the first trade by new Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik.
|CC Sabathia's contract is the richest for a pitcher in baseball history. (AP)|
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).
"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-year offer 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, Greg Genske and Brian Peters, that if it would be helpful, he was willing to travel to meet with the Sabathia and his family in California.
At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Cashman received the invitation.
"I said, 'Let's go,"' he recalled. "When the opportunity was given, that's a flight I had to take."
He bought a one-way ticket for a 5 p.m. flight to Oakland with Peters and took a car service to Sabathia's home in Vallejo, where he met with the pitcher, Sabathia's wife and children.
Cashman joked about flying commercial.
"We're not the Red Sox," he said, a reference to the team's use of owner John Henry's private plane during negotiations with Daisuke Matsuzaka two offseasons ago.
"They certainly are not, thank goodness!" Red Sox president Larry Lucchino responded in an e-mail to the AP.
Cashman couldn't recall ever before making a recruiting trip to a free agent's home. He had remembered seeing it on an episode of MTV Cribs.
"When I walked in, I did tell him, it was like: 'I've been here before,"' Cashman said.
After putting the framework for an agreement in place, Cashman spent the night at a San Francisco hotel before taking an 8 a.m. flight back to Las Vegas on Wednesday. Yankees officials, meanwhile, participated in negotiations by phone.
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 as the Brewers made the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
Many of Sabathia's questions to the Yankees had been about what it would be like to pitch in New York, and part of the reason Cashman traveled to California was to meet with the Sabathia's wife, Amber, along with the player to discuss that issue. Sabathia is just 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five postseason starts and was 1-4 with an 8.61 ERA at the old Yankees Stadium.
"The only times people tend to struggle is when they put pressure on themselves," Jeter said. "It's still the same game whether you're playing in New York, or you're playing in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Tampa."