The New York Yankees have led the baseball world in spending over the past decade. They pride themselves in being the best. But last off-season, with an opportunity to give themselves the best chance at winning a World Series championship for the first time since 2000, they past, and later found themselves out of postseason play for the first time since 1993. Which is why rampant rumors suggest, when the free agent period begins on November 13th, they will give pitcher C.C. Sabathia an offer he cannot refuse, and make him the highest paid pitcher in the game.
The title “frontline pitcher” is often thrown around, but there are only are a handful of pitchers in Major League baseball who are true dominant aces. The class of pitcher who can carry a baseball team in the playoffs by shutting down the opposing lineup, and set the tone for a series. The Yankees have coveted one of these grade A type talents for awhile. They have not had one since the first go around of Roger Clemens. During the years they reclaimed their spot as a dynasty in baseball, from 1996 through 2000, their championship teams were built around an offensive core with tremendous chemistry, clutch ability, and pitching.
Even though the Yankees entered the 2008 season with a twelve year consecutive streak of making the postseason, they no longer had any of the qualities that made them a champion in the late 90’s. Last winter, after years of trying to land one of the top pitchers in the game, they got their chance in the form of Johan Santana, the best in the game, who was with Minnesota at the time and very much available on the trade market. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman choose to pass on a trade which would have cost the Yankees a top pitching prospect or two, plus outfielder Melky Cabrera, who is a solid role player but not much as else. Another factor which led to Cashman not wanting to trade for Santana was the fact that the pitcher was seeking a new long term contract in the $100 million dollar range, something Cashman did not want to do.
With the Yankees streak of making the playoffs ending this season in what was the final year of Yankee Stadium, the Yankees have admitted to their mistake by preparing to make a full court press for Sabathia. A rotation next season that features Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, and Chien-Ming Wang as the top three starters would give them a serious look, and a shot at having a dominant starting rotation. However, there is also another reason that would make the Yankees acquisition of Sabathia a brilliant move.
With the decline of African-Americans in major league baseball over the years, where only eight percent of major league players in 2008 were African-American, C.C. Sabathia is one of the few starting African-American pitchers in the Majors. With the way pitcher Dontrelle Willis has fallen off the last couple of seasons, Sabathia is the only big name African-American pitcher in the game. In 2007, Sabathia became the first African-American pitcher to win the CY Young award since Dwight Gooden in 1986, and the first African-American to win the award from the American league since Vida Blue in 1971. The African-American community in New York City, like a lot of black communities in the country, has not exactly been a hotbed of enthusiasm for baseball. Many in New York’s black community have lost a serious interest in the sport, which is especially true amongst the youth. C.C. Sabathia would be a star in New York City. He is an outstanding pitcher, plus he has that hip-hop swagger which every African-American kid identifies with. From his hip-hop swagger, to his baggy uniform, to the way he wears his cap with a slight twist to the side. He would be a marketable black star who the black community would really be able to get excited about. After all, if there is no one who looks like you on the playing field then why watch?
For most of the 2008 season there was just one African-American player on the Yankees. That of course is Yankee captain Derek Jeter. Jeter, unquestionably is incredibly popular in New York and is as big as any athlete in the city. But for whatever the reason, Jeter is not exactly Mr. identifiable when it comes to the black youth. A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that he doesn’t have the look or the style of a hip-hopper, he just goes by his business in a quiet humble manner. And for all the charity work, and events in and around New York City that we see Jeter give his time to, it’s hard to remember a time when the cameras or the scribes covered him doing anyting in the black community.
The New York Mets last season only had two African-American ballplayers on its roster the entire the season. Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson, both of whom are little used bench players. In the mid to late 1980’s when the Mets were in World Series contention every season, two black stars, Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry were as key as any other players on the team. The excitement in New York’s black community for these two athletes was real, and they turned some in the black community who were barely interested in baseball into Mets fans. The same would be true again if you had the only star African-American pitcher in the bigs pitching on center stage in New York. If Sabathia ended up with either the Yankees or the Mets, it would give whichever club who landed him an air of coolness about them.
While the Yankees choose to pass on Sabathia last winter, the Mets made the trade with Minnesota, and then made Santana the highest paid pitcher in baseball with a six year $137.5 million dollar contract. Sabathia is coming off a great season in 2008 in which he was traded from Cleveland to Milwaukee in July, then proceeded to finish the season with a 9-1 record with the Brewers. After a CY Young campaign in 2007 Sabathia probably will be looking for a contract this winter that exceeds the one Santana got. Even though Santana has had the better career, Sabathia is the hottest arm in baseball right now and his stock is at an incredible peak. Everyone knows the Yankees can spend with anyone when it comes to a player they covet. And all indications point to the bombers doing whatever it takes to bring Sabathia to the Bronx.
For the Mets to pursue Sabathia would mean they would have nearly $300 million locked in to two pitchers, which would be risky business. But no question, Sabathia would look good in a Mets uniform as well, and they would be the ones to attract the guaranteed excitement from the black community. But at the end of the day, the Yankees are the Yankees, with their historical mystique, and Sabathia in Yankee pinstripes would present one heck of a dynamic going into the New Yankee Stadium in 2009. For Sabathia and the Yankees it would be a match made in baseball heaven, and a win-win situation for both parties.