Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CC Drops 30 Pounds, White Castle Stock Plummets Admist Stockholder Panic

According to ESPN's Buster Olney, Yankee ace C.C. Sabathia has lost about 30 pounds this winter, and will come into camp in the best shape in several years.  Apparently, the motivation behind Sabathia's weight loss was to reduce the pressure on his balky knee that's been giving him trouble in recent years.  In turn, this should probably help his performance both in the upcoming season and each season afterward, assuming he can keep the weight off.

While I think it's great when anyone takes steps toward improving his or her health, I can't help but wonder if Sabathia was driven by an alternate motivating factor.  It's no secret that Sabathia can "opt out" of his contract after the season.  Even though he's indicated that he's not interested in exercising the clause, I can't help but notice he hasn't officially declined his right to do so.  In all honesty, he'd be stupid to do it, if only because he has so much to gain by exercising it.  Let me explain.

Sabathia projects to be worth approximately 5.5 WAR for the 2011 season.  Assuming he follows the average half win decrease per season aging curve, Sabathia is a good bet to put up a WAR line of 5.5/5.0/4.5/4.0/3.5 (22.5 WAR) over the final five seasons of his contract.  I doesn't take a statistical wizard to look at these numbers and determine that Sabathia would be putting himself in a much better financial situation by opting out at age-31.

By opting out, Sabathia would enter the free agent market a full year younger than Cliff Lee was this past offseason.  Additionally, the pitching free agent market is fairly weak next year with aging stars like Roy Oswalt, Chris Carpenter, and Mark Buehrle leading the charge.  While these pitchers will certainly draw considerable interest, teams would find a pitcher of Sabathia's caliber far more desirable.  As a result, he'd be in a great position to clean up, and sign a contract exceeding Cliff Lee's five year $125M contract with the Phillies.

If Sabathia chose to remain loyal to the Yankees and declined his "opt out" clause, he'd likely be entering the market as a 3.0-3.5 win pitcher.  While he'd still be a valuable commodity, his next contract would likely be worth significantly less than the one he'd be likely to receive next season as a free agent.  In all likelihood, he'd be compromising his ability to maximize his earning power over the long haul.

As it currently stands, Sabathia has too much to gain by opting out of the seven year $161M contract he signed in December 2008.  While I have no doubt his knee played a role in his decision to lose 30 pounds, the allure of signing another lucrative deal was likely the primary motivating factor.  Typically when players come into Spring Training "in the best shape of their life" (or something close to it), it's during a "contract year" in which the player is angling to break the bank during the offseason.  Sabathia appears to be doing just that.  I certainly don't blame him.  In fact, I'd do exactly the same thing if I were in his shoes.  

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