The narrative is set for Game 5 of the American League Division Series tonight in Cleveland.
The Indians, the AL’s best team, are trying to advance to the next round of the playoffs, and the man that’s trying to stop them is New York Yankees’ lefty CC Sabathia, who spent his first eight big league seasons with Cleveland and won the AL Cy Young for the Tribe in 2007.
That’s some pretty thick drama there – even thicker when you consider the Indians are countering Sabathia with right-hander Corey Kluber, the expected 2017 AL Cy Young Award winner. So, the Indians’ Cy Present versus its Cy Past, with the winner’s club advancing to the ALCS versus the Houston Astros.
This doesn’t need more storylines, but I’ll offer you another: This could be Sabathia’s last game in a Yankees’ uniform. His contract expires at season’s end. And there is no guarantee that he stays in the Bronx in 2018.
If that is the case, and Sabathia is on the open market, he should be high on the Orioles’ list for next year. So high, in fact, that I could argue that he is the Orioles’ best overall fit available in free agency.
Yes, I realize he turns 38 in July, his halcyon days are far behind him and that he’s had personal issues. Yes, I know his monstrous frame – he’s listed as 6-foot-6, 300 pounds – and persistent knee issues would give majority owner Peter Angelos and club vice president/health guru Brady Anderson night sweats throughout the duration of any contract.
I also know that to get Sabathia to sign in Baltimore, the Orioles likely would have to overpay given Camden Yards, the AL East, a last-place squad, yadda, yadda, yadda.
And, even if the Orioles offered an overpay, the safe bet is that Sabathia stays with the Yankees. It has been his baseball home for nine seasons, and the Northern California native and his family apparently have settled in quite nicely in New Jersey.
At this point, it’s probably all about comfortability and having a chance to win for Sabathia. Plus, there’s no reason the Yankees shouldn’t want him back. He was 14-7 with a 3.69 ERA in 27 starts this season and has been given the ball in a do-or-die game tonight. He also relishes the mentor role with the younger pitchers on the Yankees’ pitching staff and in their clubhouse.
And that’s one of the primary reasons I say the Orioles should go hard after Sabathia this winter if the Yankees blink.
OK, let’s all step back for one moment.
What the Orioles need most is a legitimate ace atop their rotation. I understand that. We all know it. But the reality is it’s not going to happen through free agency this winter. Let’s just accept that and move on.
There are only two ace-types available; old friend Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish. They’ll both be highly coveted and even more highly expensive. Again, for the Orioles to land any coveted free-agent pitcher, they are gonna have to overpay. And the overpay for a Darvish or Arrieta would be so far out of the Orioles’ comfort zone, it’s not worth spending more time writing about it. I’ll type it again slowly: It’s not gonna happen.
Now there are some lower-tier, rather intriguing pitchers on the market including Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, among others. They, too, will have plenty of options that don’t include pitching half their games at Camden Yards.
Let’s just say I’m not particularly optimistic that the Orioles’ rotation gets a huge boost from the free-agent pool. So, if they aren’t landing an ace, they must target two to three pitchers who can fit their needs. And Sabathia is a solid start to that list.
He is a lefty, which the Orioles desperately covet.
Sabathia won’t be equaling the $25 million he made in 2017, but he’ll still get a healthy salary next year, though he’ll likely will be limited to a one-year deal (maybe one and an option or two years). And that fits for an Orioles team that may be blowing things up after next season anyway.
Sabathia has a track record in the AL East – he’s 69-48 with a 3.77 ERA in more than 1,000 combined innings against the Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays (he’s actually an awful 1-8 with a 6.16 ERA in nine starts versus the Yankees, but hasn’t pitched against them since April 2008).
He also has solid numbers over the years at Camden Yards, 11-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 25 starts (though he allowed seven earned runs in two games there this year).
And he is a veteran who has been through highs and lows, whether it was battling alcoholism or the pressure of 20 postseason starts.
Those experiences might be even more valuable for this Orioles team than just taking the ball every fifth day. Despite how bad they were in 2017, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman and Wade Miley were good influences on the younger starters, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, when it came to work ethic, attitude and accountability.
There will be a leadership void there in 2018, and it’s an important role that needs to be filled. Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald will tell you that perhaps the most significant impact on their careers occurred in 1992, when the Orioles signed veteran Rick Sutcliffe, who continually tutored the talented youngsters on the nuances of pitching.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt Gausman and Bundy to have a Sutcliffe type by their sides. Sabathia has that kind of rep.
And the addition of Sabathia for the Orioles would be a subtraction of Sabathia from the Yankees, for what that’s worth.
Ultimately, I don’t see Sabathia leaving New York. My guess is he retires from there. But if he were to leave, the Orioles should be motivated to make a play.
He won’t solve all their pitching woes. He won’t fill the ace slot. But he could help in several different ways.
To paraphrase manager Buck Showalter, the club shouldn’t overlook a 300-pound orchid while searching for a rose – or for an ace.