This coming offseason, both CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees have some decisions to make. If CC wants, he can opt out of the last 4 years of his contract, forgoing $23 million per year for a total of $92 million. The reason he would do this, of course, is so he could sign a longer deal covering his age 35-38 seasons. That is a smart move, because it isn’t likely that he will be more attractive at age 34 than he is now at age 30. What remains to be seen is if anyone will give him more than 4 years. Well, of course they will. But should they?
Sabathia is a stud, no question. Since 2006, he has more strikeouts than anyone in baseball, more innings and complete games than anyone without a medical degree, and the 5th best ERA+ among those with at least 750 innings pitched. And he is only 30 years old, which is really not that ancient. However, his age and workload might be a cause for concern when viewed in conjunction with his weight. Tipping the scale at 290 pounds (although realistically, he’s probably a Ryan Howard-like Subway diet away from that), his body takes a beating just through carrying that frame around 365 days a year.
To see what type of aging we can expect, I sorted through MLB history for pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched who have also pitched at least one season in their 30s, then ranked by weight. Here are the heaviest 5:
5. Freddy Garcia (6’ 4”, 250 lbs)
The case of the Chief is certainly a warning for the Yankees on this point. Through age 30, he averaged 204 innings per season, a 114 ERA+, and had one top-3 Cy Young finish. After age 30, he averaged 100 innings, a 98 ERA+, and by age 32 was really not even considered an automatic Major Leaguer.
4. Jose Contreras (6’ 4”, 255 lbs)
Contreras is an incomplete study, because his Major League career started at age 31. We do know, that he was 117-50 with a 2.82 ERA in his Cuban career, for whatever it’s worth. We also know that in his 8 MLB seasons, he has started more than 20 games only 5 times, and has an ERA better than the league average in just 2 of those.
3. Armando Benitez (6’ 4”, 260 lbs)
Benitez’s success continued all of the way through his age 31 season, which is more than can be said for anyone else. His fall after that, though, was every bit as precipitous. Through age 31, he had an ERA of 2.66, good for a 163 ERA+. His WHIP was 1.14 and he struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings. His career lasted 4 seasons after that, and he posted an ERA of 4.61 (a 97 ERA+), a WHIP of 1.48, and just 8.6 K/9.
2. Aaron Harang (6’ 7”, 260 lbs)
Harang also fits the trend of these quick-falling careers. He started his career in Oakland, and never really got his feet on the ground. He was traded to the Reds in 2003, when his career actually began. For the next 4 years, he had an ERA of 3.98, posting an ERA+ of 113. He pitched 210 innings per season with a 3.41 K/BB rate and a WHIP of 1.27. Since he turned 30, he has an ERA of 4.71 (a 90 ERA+), with 153 innings per season, a 2.88 K/BB rate and a WHIP of 1.44. Some are still hopeful that he will mount a comeback, but I wouldn’t bet too much on it.
1. Chris Young (6’ 10”, 280 lbs)
Chris provides an especially good comparison to CC, because he is not just very tall, but freakishly tall, like Sabathia. In his twenties, he had a career ERA of 3.72 (including time in the bandbox at Arlington), an ERA+ of 113, and a K/BB rate close to two-and-a-half. At age 30, he had an ERA of 5.21 with a K/BB rate of 1.25. Then, last year at age 31, he was limited to 20 innings due to injury. Going forward, not many good things are projected for poor Mr. Young.
So, the stories of his comparable peers do not paint a rosy picture for CC Sabathia as he ages. That makes a long-term deal a scary proposition at this point in his career. Stop me if you’ve heard this before- and very recently. Just like Albert Pujols, though, it probably isn’t fair to call these mere mortals “his peers.” Sometimes you just have to admit that there aren’t many like this guy. Nobody can hit like Pujols right now (very, very few ever could), and nobody uses such a massive frame as effectively as this big southpaw. Despite the extra risk associated with his body type, a long-term deal still makes a lot of sense. Unless they come out with a new type of Cap’n Crunch.