Yankees' concerns begin with Sabathia

Updated: September 4, 2012, 10:17 AM ET
By Buster Olney

There is a significant difference between being a front-line pitcher and being the ace of a staff, as longtime Oriole Mike Flanagan once explained. There is an extra accountability factor because an ace embraces the responsibility of leading a rotation, absorbs innings to give relief to the relievers and rescues his teammates from losing streaks.

But being an ace goes far beyond wanting the ball; you have to have the ability to match another team's ace zero for zero, especially in a crucial game or in the postseason.

CC Sabathia has been an ace for a decade, and, in keeping with the creed of the ace, he famously ignored the risk of injury just weeks from free agency in 2008 to make starts on three days' rest for the Milwaukee Brewers. His willingness to shoulder responsibility was a driving factor in the New York Yankees' decision to sign him to a seven-year, $161 million deal in the fall of 2008, and to reinvest in him this past fall when they gave Sabathia an extension. He has arguably been the best fit of any free agent in the Yankees' history, giving them excellent return for the fortune they have paid him.

But, for the first time in Sabathia's career, there is a real doubt about whether he can swap zeros with the Verlanders and other great pitchers and shut down a great lineup.