Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Does CC love N.Y.?
By Jayson Stark ESPN.com
LAS VEGAS -- CC Sabathia may be built like your average New York skyscraper. But does he really want to pitch in the shadow of all those New York skyscrapers?
That's the 140 million-dollar question CC has clearly been wrestling with for weeks now.
And it's precisely because he hasn't been able to answer that question that he asked Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to hop on an airplane Tuesday night and jet off to San Francisco.
It was a visit, said one source familiar with the situation, that was "not about money."
"This is a guy trying to come to grips with New York and whether he can play there," the source said. "I think, in his mind, he's trying to get there. But he's not there yet."
So Sabathia called the GM of the Yankees late Tuesday afternoon and invited him for another chat -- their third face-to-face visit in the past three days. Except this one included Amber Sabathia, the wife of CC and a woman who clearly has questions of her own about whether New York is right for both of them.
Do they really want to do this? Do they really want to try this? Do they really think they can play in New York, live in New York, raise a family in New York?
These are the questions the Sabathias have been asking themselves. But these are also questions the Yankees have been wondering about, too, with each day that went by without Sabathia telling them he'd be glad to take their 140 million bucks.
By the time the Yankees delegation gets to sing its own rendition of "Leaving Las Vegas" on Thursday, their offer to Sabathia will be a month old.
And still Sabathia hasn't said yes.
The other 29 teams in this sport have had all these weeks to scrape together an offer that even approaches the same stratosphere as the Yankees' offer. Nobody has come within $40 million.
And still Sabathia hasn't said yes.
The Yankees brought Cashman, manager Joe Girardi and even the legendary Reginald M. Jackson himself to their Vegas rendezvous with Sabathia this week -- and answered all his life-in-New York questions over two days of meetings.
And still Sabathia didn't say yes.
In 17 starts with the Brewers last season, Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, including seven complete games.
Meanwhile, the Yankees must have noticed something funny going on around them: That Sabathia and his agent, Greg Genske, asked for a meeting with the Red Sox this week. And they also met with the Brewers this week.
And they've been trying to nail down a meeting with the Giants in San Francisco next week. And Sabathia ran into Dodgers GM Ned Colletti at a Vegas saloon the other night, and attempted to let Colletti know that he'd love to be a Dodger, too.
Next thing you know, he'll be wandering into the offices of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, wondering if they'd like to make him an offer.
It all had to be enough to make the Yankees wonder whether this guy really, truly had any sincere desire to pitch in the 718 area code. And they weren't the only ones.
I spoke to one baseball man who spent quite a bit of time with Sabathia in Las Vegas this week. When I asked what impression he came away with after their visit, he answered:
"The same as everyone else -- that he really doesn't want to be in New York and that he's waiting around for one of the California teams to make him an offer he can say yes to."
I asked another baseball man who has known Sabathia for years whether he thought CC could work himself into a New York state of mind, even for $140 million. The answer I got:
"Oh, he could play there. He could do it. CC is an amazing guy. There isn't anything he couldn't handle. But I don't think it would be his ideal scenario. Let's put it that way."
For four weeks, the Yankees have been projecting an air of total confidence that eventually, this fellow was going to take their offer -- a confidence based almost solely on the belief that no player of this stature has ever left that much money on the table.
But the source who has known this particular player the longest made a different sort of prediction, with even more confidence: If anybody could do it, this is the guy.
"He's one guy, I'm absolutely convinced, whose decision will not be about getting the last dollar," Sabathia's friend said. "That's not the way he thinks. This isn't a business decision for him. This is a life decision. So if he chooses New York, it will be because he wants to be there, not because they were the team that offered the most money."
But for Sabathia to decide he wants to be there, he clearly has to talk himself into believing that he wants to be there. And that in itself makes you wonder if his decision would be more of an "OK, let's try it" kind of conviction, not an "OK, let's do it" kind of conviction.
Big difference. Big enough that "conviction" doesn't even seem like the right word to describe it.
"I'll give you another prediction," the second baseball man said. "If he does go to New York, there will be an opt-out clause. I don't think he would agree to go there if he doesn't have the ability to opt out fairly early in the deal."
There have been no indications to this point that the Yankees have offered him an opt-out. But it sounds like it would be an inspired idea for both sides -- because the Yankees have lived through enough Randy Johnson-esque nightmares to know that New York isn't for everybody. And when a player and a town like this don't fit, it ain't pretty.
On a day when The Other Team in New York, the Mets, agreed to a huge deal with closer Francisco Rodriguez, I asked Mets manager Jerry Manuel how important it was for a team in New York to make sure it brings in players who genuinely want to be in New York.
"I think that is probably, probably along with talent, the utmost criteria that you can have," Manuel said. "I think you sometimes have a tendency to bring people into New York who are talented but don't really want to be there, and it somehow becomes affected and you never see the talent you thought you were bringing into that situation.
"So if you have a guy that wants to be there and is very good and that stage just only enhances that ability, you've got a special player. It takes special people to function and operate in New York, and it's because of the passion. The passion is unrivaled. And it's not prejudiced, either. They'll hate on anybody."
But who among us wants to see them hating on a guy as cool and well-intentioned as Sabathia? So if this man really doesn't want to be a Yankee, he'd be doing everybody (except maybe the players' union) a favor by letting them know. Then they can both move on and look for peace, love and understanding elsewhere.
There are definitely people out there who think Sabathia has been tempted to do that. But he couldn't -- because it would be the dumbest business plan ever.
As a high-ranking official of one club said Tuesday when he was told of the apparently incorrect report that Sabathia had informed the Yankees he'd turned down their offer: "Why would he reject that offer before he signs [somewhere else]? That makes no sense."
Of course not. If he's going to sign elsewhere, he needs the Yankees' offer out there to serve as a ceiling -- and, hopefully, a magnetic ceiling, one that would suck up all his other offers closer to that $140 million plateau.
So far, the Yankees haven't seen any reason to (ahem) yank their offer. After all, it wasn't as if somebody had shown an inclination to outbid them. But sooner or later, that was going to change.
Sooner or later, they were just going to need to know, so they could make other decisions, pursue other pitchers, maybe even make runs at Mark Teixeira and/or Manny Ramirez.
So if Cashman's emergency San Francisco airlift doesn't seal this deal, it wouldn't be a shock if one day soon -- maybe toward the end of this week, maybe sometime next week -- they inform Sabathia that, as Hal Steinbrenner once said, this offer does have an expiration date.
Obviously, Sabathia knows that, too. And obviously, he has to be asking himself another question: Then what?
The Angels, most likely, would still be waiting on Teixeira. The Giants would still have to figure out how to justify making a $100 million offer to a starting pitcher when (A) they already have one $126 million starting pitcher (Barry Zito) and (B) their biggest need is a bat, not another arm.
Oh, if Sabathia waits long enough, there are indications the Dodgers have told him they might still be interested if they can fill a couple of more pressing vacancies without blowing the whole budget. But the McCourt family doesn't exactly have hot and cold money running through its taps these days. So how close can they come to $100 million?
Well, there's always the Brewers, of course. Sabathia did love it there. And they loved him. So don't rule that out. But Milwaukee is also a conveniently located 2,168-mile drive to his old home town of Vallejo, Calif. So if this is really a life decision, is that where he really wants to be for life?
OK, maybe. But maybe not.
At any rate, this has to come to a head soon. Doesn't it? Because the Yankees are going to have to bring it to a head.
"I don't see this lasting much longer," said one baseball man who has been watching this saga closely. "He's going to have to answer the question: Does he want to play in New York or doesn't he? This can't go on forever, for either side."
Patience is an admirable quality. But the Yankees have only so much of it. To give a man a month to make a huge decision is both fair and honorable. To give him much more than that seems almost delusional.
The time has come for CC Sabathia to make up his mind. Apparently, he knows that, too. If not, Cashman never would have picked up his cell phone Tuesday and heard the voice on the other end say: "Hey Brian, this is CC."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.