- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- If CC Sabathia has really pitched his last game as a Yankee -- and it is far too early to say that, even if the always-cautious Joe Girardi refused to rule it out -- his final game would have come on May 10, 2014, in which he worked into the sixth inning, allowed four runs (although just one was earned) and three home runs, another disappointing outing in a most disappointing season.
But while it is easy to look at last year, when he went 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA, and this one, which was even worse (3-4, 5.28 at the time he went on the DL), it is just as easy to forget how good a Yankee CC had been for the previous four seasons, when he went 74-29, was named the 2009 ALCS MVP and finished in the top five in the AL Cy Young Award voting for three consecutive years.
In fact, as good as Sabathia was in his pre-Yankee life -- when he went 117-73 in seven-plus years with the Cleveland Indians and one glorious half-year in Milwaukee (11-2, 1.65), for a .650 winning percentage -- he was even better as a Yankee, going 91-46 (.664) with a 3.59 ERA.
These are the things to take into account when determining Sabathia's Yankees legacy, the time for which may be coming sooner than anyone would have thought.
How big a loss? Tough to say. Sabathia was pitching poorly at the time of his injury, and by his own admission, his right knee did not begin to trouble him until his second-to-last start. So there was no real reason to believe two months of healing for his knee would have done anything to improve his arm, which still could only muster between 89 mph and 91 mph on his fastball. Even when he was "healthy," Sabathia was no better than the fourth-best starter in the Yankees' rotation. Anyone who thought he was going to return to save the 2014 season was indulging in fantasy-world baseball. But one more live arm in the rotation certainly would have helped, if only to give Girardi the flexibility to remove either Vidal Nuno or Chase Whitley.
Immediate effect: Obviously, this raises the priority level for Brian Cashman to acquire a starting pitcher from Important to Imperative. Even though both have been on the DL for two months or more, until this week the Yankees were expecting to get Sabathia and/or Michael Pineda back into the rotation in either late July or early August. Now, it seems unlikely we will see either one of them this season, and Cashman's efforts to acquire a Jeff Samardzija, a Jason Hammel, a Cliff Lee or even a David Price -- although I seriously doubt the Rays would trade Price within the division -- will have to be intensified.
The question is, what would the Yankees be willing to part with for a short-term solution? It is well-known that the Yankees' farm system is light on tradeable prospects, but there is one player everyone is sure to ask for: Dellin Betances.
Do the Yankees dare part with the only truly live arm they have developed out of the so-called Killer B's on a crapshoot to salvage this season?
And Betances isn't likely to be enough. Along with him, you could see teams asking for John Ryan Murphy or Gary Sanchez or Francisco Cervelli or even Brett Gardner, who during spring training signed a five-year, $59.5 million contract that now looks like a steal for the Yankees.
Long-term prospects: Even if Sabathia dodges a bullet and turns out not to need microfracture surgery on his troublesome right knee, can the Yankees really rely on him anymore?
The reality is, he's not going anywhere until 2017 at the earliest, because of the contract extension he signed after the 2011 season that guarantees his $48 million over the two seasons beyond this one, and includes a $25 million vesting option for 2017. The Yankees can buy Sabathia out after 2016 for $5 million.
So the odds are he will be a Yankee for the remainder of his career (he will turn 34 on July 21). And that his contract will be remembered as one of the worst in recent Yankees history, second only to the toxic Alex Rodriguez deal.
Weighty issues: Sabathia deserves credit not only for shedding the 40 extra pounds he carried through much of his career, but keeping them off. The theory that the weight loss contributed to his loss of velocity is not likely to go away, though, although it seems not only unlikely, but counterintuitive. A slimmer Sabathia was a more athletic, healthier Sabathia, and that had to be better both for him and the team. It is unfortunate, however, that his shaping up coincided with the apparent winding down of his career.
So what do the Yankees do next? Obviously, shop for a starter. But since Cashman can't, and won't, address any specifics regarding the trade market, I'll throw it out to you:
A. Which pitcher do you think the Yankees should pursue: Samardzija, Hammel, Lee, Price or someone else?
B. Would you include Betances in a package for any of them?