A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News
Sabathia’s latest knee injury: Past, present and future
First, a quick explanation. A few weeks ago one of my closest friends got married, and I was in the wedding, so I missed a few Yankees games to be a part of the ceremony. Yesterday, it was my one of my girlfriend’s closest friends getting married, and so I was back in New Jersey, vaguely following the Yankees on my phone. That’s why you didn’t see much on the blog beyond the late morning.
By now, though, you all know the news of the day.
CC Sabathia came out of yesterday’s game in the third inning. His right knee is giving him problems again, and he’ll almost certainly go on the disabled list. A look at what this means for the Yankees:
Sabathia couldn’t pitch last season. He got through eight starts and kept hoping to come back at some point, but he ultimately needed surgery to deal with degenerative damage in his right knee. That’s his landing knee, which has taken the pounding of a large frame through 15 big league seasons.
I’m obviously not a doctor, but I have to assume Sabathia’s weight would be a factor in his knee problems. Seems to be a lot of pounding, pitch after pitch, but maybe I’m wrong. Either way, I can’t imagine Sabathia feels any regret about his size. He’s been a big guy throughout his career. He won a Cy Young award at that weight. He also went to six All-Star games, won a World Series and developed a reputation as one of the most durable starters in baseball. Too big? I don’t know. He was awfully good for a long time, but like a lot of pitchers, he wound up hurt.
This season, Sabathia came back from surgery and stayed relatively healthy, but he had a knee drained a couple of times and was apparently feeling more discomfort than the let on. When August started, Sabathia’s velocity spiked and his numbers improved significantly. He had a 3.38 ERA in his past three starts before yesterday.
Turns out, he’d been letting it fly while knowingly hammering away at that bad knee.
“What else is there to do?” he told reporters including Brendan Kuty postgame. “Pitch how I’ve been pitching or go out there and try to compete? So I decided to give it everything I had.”
Sabathia doesn’t come out of games easily. He’s pitched through a lot in his career, and had been apparently pitching through some knee issues most of this season believing he could figure it out along the way. For him to come out of yesterday’s game suggests this isn’t a minor, one-time issue.
“I’m guessing it’s a DL off the bat because he left the field without throwing another pitch,” general manager Brian
Cashman told The Associated Press. “It seems to imply that it’s something serious.”
So the Yankees are down a starter, but they’re also about to gain a starter. With or without the Sabathia injury, the Yankees were planning to have Michael Pineda rejoin the rotation on Wednesday. That means they have a five-man rotation already. Should they choose to stick with their plan for a six-man rotation in September, they could do that by making Bryan Mitchell a full-time starter when he returns from the seven-day concussion disabled list.
At the very least, it seems they’ll likely want/need Mitchell — or someone — to make a few spot starts during long stretches of games next month.
For right now, it seems safe to assume someone will join the Yankees’ bullpen to take Sabathia’s spot on the roster. Could be that more than one reliever will come up considering both Branden Pinder and Nick Rumbelow pitched multiple innings yesterday. Ultimately, though, the bigger decisions is choosing how to handle the rotation going forward.
Sabathia’s contract runs through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017. That vesting option kicks in as long as he doesn’t have a shoulder issue, which he doesn’t seem to have. Realistically, the Yankees are on the hook for two more years at $25 million per year. The notion that Sabathia somehow owes it to the Yankees to retire early is ridiculous. If he’s physically able to play, he owes it to the Yankees to work hard and try to come back as an effective pitcher, but who walks away from a contract after being hurt on the job?
Question is: what can the Yankees get out of Sabathia going forward? Is he going to pitch again in some capacity this season? Could injury legitimately push him out of the game, or is he going to be back in Spring Training trying to figure out how he fits the roster?
With Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova under team control for next season — not to mention Mitchell, Adam Warren and Chase Whitley — the Yankees have rotation options for next year, so Sabathia wouldn’t have to come to camp as a starter. Even when he was struggling this season, he was still awfully good against lefties (they’ve hit .183/.215/.287 against him this season), so perhaps he could be effective in a relief role picking his battles (at least early on) so that he faces primarily left-handed hitters.
Long-term contracts with pitchers — or any player, really — always carry significant risk of becoming a problem in the future, and right now it certainly seems that Sabathia’s contract will become one of those problems. His first four years with the Yankees were spectacular, but as he crept into his mid-30s with a lot of miles on his arm and body, Sabathia’s future has become much less certain.
Associated Press photos