Yankees left-hander C.C. Sabathia indicated earlier this season that this could be the last year of his career, but now he seems likely to return in 2019. Sabathia recently told Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com that he aims to play next year, health permitting.
“I’m [going] start to start,” Sabathia said. “I go out one start and feel like I can pitch five more years. I go out another start and I’m [feeling] done. But if I can stay healthy — if my knee holds up — hopefully I’ll play one more.”
It’s not a given that the big-bodied Sabathia’s knee will continue to cooperate, given that he dealt with serious troubles in that area as recently as last year. The pain in Sabathia’s right knee was so acute last summer that he nearly retired, in fact, before receiving a painkilling injection that helped him finish the season. His ongoing presence was a major positive for the Yankees, whom he helped pitch to the ALCS before they lost in seven games to the eventual world champion Astros.
Thanks in part to Sabathia’s strong finish in 2017, the Yankees re-signed the then-free agent to a one-year, $10MM guarantee in the offseason. The 38-year-old (his birthday is today) has been more than worth the investment so far in his 10th season with the Yankees, having pitched to a 3.51 ERA with 6.93 K/9, 2.61 BB/9 and a 45.3 percent groundball rate through 100 innings (18 starts). Although ERA estimators such as FIP (4.55), xFIP (4.52) and SIERA (4.45) haven’t been enamored of Sabathia’s work, it’s worth pointing out he has managed to defy severe regression by serving as a soft contact artist. Among qualified pitchers, only Milwaukee’s Brent Suter has induced a lower average exit velocity against than Sabathia’s 84.5 mph, per Statcast (via Baseball Savant), which also shows little difference between his wOBA allowed (.316) and xwOBA (.306).
Based on Sabathia’s performance, it seems the Yankees would have interest in retaining him beyond this season if he remains healthy. It’s unclear whether the Yankees will acquire a controllable starter this summer or during the winter, but even if they do, they’d likely still have room for an effective Sabathia in their rotation. He’s arguably New York’s second-best starter right now, after all, trailing ace Luis Severino. The club also has the home run-prone Masahiro Tanaka and the much-maligned Sonny Gray under wraps past this season. Beyond that, there are plenty of unproven young arms in the fold, with the highly touted Justus Sheffield, the struggling Domingo German and the currently injured Jonathan Loaisiga among them.
At the very least, Sabathia’s a superior option to each member of that group at the moment, and returning in 2019 could help him further his Hall of Fame case. The former ace, who was previously with the Indians and Brewers, owns a 3.70 ERA in 3,417 innings and ranks 36th all-time in pitcher fWAR (66.3), 53rd in wins (243) and 55th in pitcher rWAR (61.0).