Saturday, April 2, 2016

Yankees give CC Sabathia one last chance

The New York Yankees believe that CC Sabathia can figure out how to survive as a starting pitcher. There is one caveat; the clock is ticking.

CC Sabathia
Photo: Keith Allison
The Yankees cannot simply eat the rest of Sabathia’s contract right now, nor should the thought enter their collective minds. However, there has to be a limit to any damage his performances might cause the overall well-being of the club.

To put it mildly, Sabathia is on a short leash, one that Ivan Nova is holding. To put it strongly, the Yankees have given Sabathia an ultimatum; pitch well or lose your slot. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman uttering of two words, “For now,” pertaining to Sabathia being the fifth starter more or less says it all.

Defining “pitch well” is important too. Sabathia’s role as the fifth starter means one thing; keep the team in the game, and if that’s three runs over six innings on average, that might be enough. Truth be told, would the Yankees get more from Nova on a consistent basis? I say probably not; he’s arguable their most inconsistent starting pitcher. Further, how many teams have a fifth starter with an ERA under 4.50? Not many.

The Yankees success or failure in 2016 has much less to do with who is in the fifth starter role, than what happens with the top four arms in the rotation. The 132 starts to be made by the pitchers slotted one through four will tell the story of this season, not the 30 starts the fifth guy might make.

And that’s of grave concern to the Yankees. If one starter of the group consisting of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi or Luis Severino succumbs to an injury, then both Sabathia and Nova begin to get starts at the same time. That is what the Yankees should truly be concerned about. My guess is if the Yankees start Sabathia and Nova 40-50 times combined this season, the team will be in trouble.

The Yankees do not want to set themselves up for failure when Sabathia, Nova or whoever makes a start at the back end of the rotation, but giving Sabathia the chance now has made the most sense from the very beginning of the so-called “competition.” Based on Sabathia’s finish to the 2015 season (as well as Nova’s), combined with the fact that the big lefty would be more or less useless in the bullpen for extended periods of time, made Sabathia the right person for the job. Sabathia's repertoire is completely unsuitable for the bullpen, especially in today’s game filled with high octane relief innings.

The Yankees decided to give Sabathia a chance to show the brace is helping his knee and last September was not a fluke. The team is providing him one last-ditch effort to prove he has the ability to transform his game, and if he cannot do that in due time, they’ll move him to the bullpen to give Nova a try. My guess is that the Yankees will end up using Sabathia and Nova interchangeably as the season progresses based on the opponent, provided of course the other four arms remain healthy.

Fortunately for the Yankees this situation is fluid right now because the rest of the group is healthy. If an injury occurs to any of the front four of the rotation, the Yankees could find themselves using two pitchers who might not crack other team's starting five. Such an instance could put a damper on any postseason aspirations the Yankees maintain with Opening Day fast approaching.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on The Cauldron via Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.