Friday, February 15, 2008

Parting Ways

I'm not exactly known for my optimism when it comes to the Indians, but I've been forcing myself all off-season to believe Sabathia would sign a contract extension before Spring Training. The odds of that happening took a near fatal blow yesterday as Sabathia posted an announcement on his official website that contract negotiations would be called off until after the 2008 season. Here's the meat of the announcement:
There will be time after the season for the Indians and my representatives to discuss my contract status. I remain hopeful that these discussions will result in a contract extension that will keep me with the franchise for many years to come. In the meantime, in order to avoid any distractions, my representatives and I will not make any further comment about my contractual situation beyond this statement.
First off, why was this announcement made through Sabathia's website and not as an official press release on the team website? According to Anthony Castrovince, "Shortly before he posted a message on his official Web site Wednesday night, [Sabathia] told the Indians what he was about to tell the rest of the world." That alone indicates a significant breakdown in negotiations, as if Sabathia's party had left Shapiro hanging in limbo much earlier. The situation is bad enough as it is, but it seems awfully suspect when a player informs a team he's breaking off negotiations at the same time he makes a public announcement on his own. That's not in line with how the Tribe usually does business and makes this sound even worse.

I don't think the way Westbrook and Hafner's negotiations were renewed and finalized after the regular season started are a valid comparison to Sabathia's situation. According to Shapiro, "there's not a lot of common ground" between the Tribe and Sabathia right now. Westbrook and Hafner were much closer to agreeing on the contracts' terms by the time the season started, thus making it possible for a quick resolution. If Sabathia were open to negotiating during the season (he's not), it would probably drag on for most of the season, at least.

Sabathia says extending negotiations into the season would be a distraction, but lets be honest here: his presence at the bargaining table has been minimal so far. Sabathia's agents are the ones doing the negotiating, so what kind of distraction is he referring to? I'm willing to question if Sabathia has even discussed his contract with Shapiro in person at this point. If both sides were still dedicated to getting a deal done, you can bet talks would have extended until April.

Frankly, I'm tired of all the BS being thrown around. Sabathia has said all the right things and maintained a positive demeanor throughout the off-season, but it's now perfectly clear that whatever loyalty he may have had to Cleveland is gone. I'm not saying Sabathia should have blindly taken the first contract put on the table, although reports indicate it was comparable to those of Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and Jake Peavy (5 years at $17-18 mil a year, including 2008). My point is that even with all the fluffy sound bites being leaked from both parties, the drive to reach a compromise has clearly died.

From a business standpoint, Sabathia is subjecting himself to significant risk in waiting until free agency. Jay at LGT sums up the gamble Sabathia is taking in snubbing the Tribe's offer:
There is no conceivable reason why he wouldn't instruct his attorneys to strike the best deal possible right now. At this moment, his value is at its peak, and he faces significant risk of a devaluing (or even career-ending) injury in the coming year. He simply stands far more to gain by re-signing with the Indians now rather than doing so at the end of the season, and the Indians' bottom line is not going to move much in that time. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that he does not intend to settle for a shorter contractual commitment with the Indians, now or at any future point.
I agree, in that Sabathia's value is at its peak and he is taking a big risk on being healthy at the end of the season. Jay is also correct in stating that the team's offer is not likely to change much in the future. It would have been foolish for Shapiro to not put the best offer on the table during the team's last shot at exclusive negotiations with its ace pitcher.

The only comparable value Cleveland will take from retaining Sabathia in his final year is that it vastly improves their chances at a deep playoff run. There is no reliable option to replace Sabathia's slot in the rotation this season (I'm citing Carmona's one full season and Miller's inability to stay healthy). Given the paltry returns for Minnesota in the Santana trade, the Indians stand little chance of getting a potential ace, like Phil Hughes, in return. The loaded trade offers Boston and New York were advertising earlier are long gone. Despite his "no-trade" stance on Sabathia, Shapiro should at least be listening to offers now. Just don't expect an offer to come along that will help the team win in 2008.

The Tribe made a generous contract offer; one of the largest in team history, yet it was not enough to even keep negotiations alive. Has anyone heard of a counter-offer from Sabathia's agents? There's no loyalty to be had at this point, it's all about the money. I'd also like to go on the record as saying Sabathia does not care about winning. He can't possibly care about winning a championship; where is he going to sign that will give him a better chance than the elite team Cleveland is fielding right now? New York? Boston? LA? They have the money, but Cleveland has shown it can meet or exceed the talent of any team in baseball.

So why don't you stop hiding behind your agents, man up, and tell us what you really want C.C.?

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