Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Yankees shouldn't compare potential Scherzer or Lester deal with Sabathia

As the New York Yankees come off a second consecutive season without a playoff appearance, and one year removed from spending close to $500 million in guaranteed contracts, there are some who think the club should be all in on free agents Max Scherzer or Jon Lester. There are others who think they should stay far away. The Yanks right now suggest they will avoid the players.

No doubt these are two of the best starting pitchers in the game today, but signing them will amount to some serious salary commitments. As each pitcher is set to enter the 2015 season at age 30, should we look at one pitcher currently on the current squad who signed a similar package to what Scherzer and Lester are reportedly in line for at nearly the same age? That man is CC Sabathia.

Coming off another incredibly solid 2011 season, Sabathia, then 31, opted out of his original seven-year, $161 million deal with the Bombers and inked a new deal worth $122 million over five seasons. The contract includes a vesting option for 2017 for $25 million per Cot's Baseball Contracts. The average annual salary for the five seasons breaks down to $24 million. There is $5 million buyout, so it's really $25 million annually at the least.

Below is a chart which shows’s Jon Heyman, an agent and an MLB general manager that Heyman spoke with as well as FanGraph’s Dave Cameron and FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing estimates for Scherzer's and Lester's potential contracts.

The approximations for Scherzer are very close and each would bring him through his age-37 season. For Lester the terms are a bit more scattered but each saw a six-year deal terminating his contract at age 36.

Next is a comparison of career numbers for each of the three players; Sabathia through 2011, and Scherzer and Lester through 2014.

The first thing that might jump out at you should be the number of innings Sabathia tossed through 2011 compared with how many innings Scherzer and Lester have thrown. Sabathia was approximately six-plus seasons ahead of Scherzer and four or so seasons ahead of Lester if using 200 innings per season as a gauge.

This is of course very significant. While Scherzer and Lester are close enough in age with respect to how old Sabathia was when he signed his extension, they have much less wear on their arms/shoulders than CC despite being just one year older.

While the Yankees might be hesitant in signing either of these players due to their current age and the contract each is expected to sign, they cannot simply be fearful in terms of age. The statistical numbers from each are remarkably similar at this time in their careers to Sabathia’s which at least shows the caliber of pitcher CC once was, albeit, older in baseball terms than his actual age suggested.

So, any argument that a potential seven-year, $175 million deal or six-year, $150 million contract for Scherzer and Lester respectively is 'crazy because look at what happened to Sabathia since’ is somewhat flawed.

It's true that Scherzer and Lester might begin to break down toward the end of the contract, but right now they are still in the prime of their careers and neither has been overused to date. They will be in a much better position toward the end of their contracts than Sabathia is right now in terms of wear. There is of course always the chance that one of them will encounter a major injury, but that can be said of any professional hurler.

In the short term, worry of excessive use is not an issue for either player. Scherzer in particular will just be approaching Sabathia’s innings pitched totals in the sixth year of a seven-year deal assuming roughly 200 innings per season and no injuries along the way. Lester, is further along the line than Scherzer but still much younger than Sabathia was in terms of use.

So, while the Yankees have sworn off the notion of signing Scherzer and Lester, hopefully it is not because of the age similarities and what has happened with Sabathia recently, but rather because of the money they have invested already in CC and Masahiro Tanaka as well as a number of highly paid positional players over the next few seasons.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In.