CC Sabathia wants to pitch next season, even if it means leaving the Yankees

NEW YORK -- Tuesday night, the New York Yankees will either have their backs up against the wall, or a chance to advance to the ALCS. New York is tied 1-1 with the Boston Red Sox in the best-of-five ALDS. Game 3 on Monday night will turn whether the Yankees or Red Sox will have their season on the line Tuesday.

Win or lose Game 3, veteran southpaw CC Sabathia will be on the mound for the Yankees in Game 4. Although his days as an ace caliber pitcher are long gone, the Yankees trust Sabathia implicitly. He started Game 5 of the ALDS and Game 7 of the ALCS last year for that reason. The Yankees are comfortable giving Sabathia the ball in a win or go home situation.

While Game 4 is the focus, Sabathia was asked about his future beyond 2018 on Monday afternoon, and he made it clear he intends to pitch next season, even if it means leaving the Yankees to get a contract.

"I definitely want to play next year," Sabathia said. "I'll play anywhere. I still want to play. I still want to pitch. I definitely can help and still get guys out. So whoever needs me."

A reunion with the Yankees is of course the most likely outcome after the season -- Sabathia and his family live in the New York area year round and he's an important leader in the clubhouse -- but Sabathia has to talk the talk. He has to at least feign willingness to go elsewhere to retain some negotiating leverage. 

This season the 38-year-old Sabathia threw 153 innings with a 3.65 ERA (120 ERA+), giving him three straight seasons of above-average production. Sabathia scrapped his four-seam fastball and adopted a cutter three years ago, and, in 481 1/3 innings since, he's pitched to a 3.76 ERA (117 ERA+). He's been quite effective.

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CC Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher three years ago. Brooks Baseball

Since adopting the cutter, Sabathia has the lowest hard contact rate (26.7 percent) and highest soft contact rate (24.4 percent) among the 74 pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched from 2016-18. The cutter helps him miss the barrel, and, because of that, Yankees manager Aaron Boone believe Sabathia can remain an effective starter for several more seasons.

"There's no question, to me, that he can pitch for more than just next year if he wants to, as long as his knee holds up," Boone said. "As long as his knee's healthy, I think he can be a successful pitcher for actually many more years if he really wants to. I think he's still that good and capable. It just comes down to the health of the knee for me."

It's worth noting there is a historical component to playing next season. Sabathia is only 14 strikeouts short of becoming the 17th pitcher in history with 3,000 career strikeouts. Here is the all-time strikeout leaderboard among lefties:

  1. Randy Johnson: 4,875
  2. Steve Carlton: 4,136
  3. CC Sabathia: 2,986
  4. Mickey Lolich: 2,832
  5. Frank Tanana: 2,773

Sabathia has the most strikeouts in American League history among southpaws and he admitted Monday that he has started thinking about his legacy both with the Yankees and for his career overall.

"Lately, I guess I have been (thinking about it), but just trying to figure out how long I want to play and all those types of things," he said. "I haven't really given it much, much thought, but the last couple months I've thought about the Hall of Fame or my career and things like that, as I get to the end. So I don't really have a statement about it, I guess, but I have thought about it."

Sabathia's been pitching with a degenerative right knee condition for several years now -- he wears a big clunky brace on the knee when on the mound -- and he's even admitted he'll probably need a knee replacement once his career is over. He receives several lubrication injections throughout the season as part of his regular treatment program.

MLB: AL Wild Card-New York Yankees Workout
CC Sabathia wants to pitch next season, even if it means leaving the Yankees. USATSI

The knee sends Sabathia to the disabled list once or twice a season, usually with inflammation, otherwise he's given the Yankees a rock solid 140-ish innings the last few years. Whoever signs him will hope for the same in 2019. Sabathia worked on a one-year deal worth $10 million this season and that's the going rate for a veteran back-end guy. 

Perhaps Sabathia would take less money to remain with the Yankees and remain home rather than relocate for the final season of the career. At this point of his career, money probably isn't an issue. He's banked over $200 million in his career and even forfeited a $500,000 in his final regular season start to issue a retaliatory hit-by-pitch.

For now, the Yankees and Sabathia are focused on winning ALDS Game 3 on Monday and then winning ALDS Game 4. There's a time and a place to worry about free agency and the middle of the postseason isn't it. Sabathia wanted to pitch again though, and barring a change of heart, it stands to reason the Yankees will welcome him back with open arms.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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