By Sweeny Murti
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Assuming he exercises his opt-out clause, can the Yankees afford to re-sign CC Sabathia?

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The better question is this—can they afford not to?

Sabathia has been among the most durable and dominant pitchers in baseball for a decade, and consider how good he’s been the last three years in pinstripes. In 101 regular season starts Sabathia is 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA. He is the first Yankee in 60 years to win at least 19 games three years in a row and is the first Yankee since Mike Mussina to lead the Yankees in innings pitched three straight years.

Mussina is a good comparison to look at, now that Sabathia is essentially a free agent at age 31. Mussina was 32 years old when the Yankees signed him to a six-year deal, followed by a two-year deal, total value equaling about $110 million for eight years. It was good value for the Yankees, as Mussina averaged 31 starts per year from 2001-2008.

Sabathia is exactly the same thing the Yankees were looking for when they signed Mussina. They were looking for an established, innings eating, front of the rotation pitcher in his prime. They knew that the back end of the deal was something they might regret later, but that’s the price you pay when signing veterans to long-term deals.

Even better, they already know going in that this is a pitcher who likes the New York spotlight, who can handle the New York spotlight, loves being the ace of the staff, and has already anchored a World Series championship team for them.

Will the Yankees get as much out of Sabathia as they did out of Mussina? They can only hope. But its hard to find arguments not to re-sign Sabathia, who if he wanted to could simply ask for the same seven-year, $143 million dollar contract the Yankees offered Cliff Lee last winter.

Sabathia will be leaving $92 million on the table if/when he opts out of the final four years of his contract. And in a year when the next-best available free agent pitcher is C.J. Wilson and the rest of the pack includes Edwin Jackson, Joel Pineiro, Mark Buehrle, and Bruce Chen…Sabathia is probably in a position where he can ask for a very big chunk of change, and how can the Yankees say no?

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Even with the likes of Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Adam Warren and a host of young arms nearly ready for the major leagues, the Yanks can’t play this like they are the Tampa Bay Rays. They can’t throw a bunch of young pitchers out there and say, “Watch these guys, they’re pretty good now, but will be really good in a couple years.” The Yankees need to maintain their position as 95-100 win pennant contenders.

And the best way to do that is give Sabathia the money.

There is some concern about a long-term deal with Sabathia, as there are with any pitchers. Many speculated that Sabathia’s weight was a factor down the stretch this season, but he has actually been effective at even heavier weights earlier in his career. Will it be an issue in years to come? Maybe, but you can’t say for certain. Sabathia has been very large—and very good—his entire major league career. Sabathia’s work ethic and desire will keep him in top pitching shape. If anything, the six-man rotation in the second half seemed to bother Sabathia more than any weight issues.

There is risk signing any pitcher to a long-term contract, and it’s unfortunate for the Yankees that they have basically lost a top pitcher under contract for four more years and likely have to replace him by signing a guy for six or seven more years, the same guy in fact. But the Yankees will be dealing with several known factors this time as opposed to unknown factors of a guy coming from another team.

Let’s put it to you another way. If CC Sabathia was opting out after spending the last three years in Milwaukee and was going to be the top free agent pitcher on the market this year, is there anything you wouldn’t do to have him in Yankee pinstripes next year?

That’s what I thought.

Sweeny Murti

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Can the Yankees afford to lose CC? How much cash and how many years should they throw at him? Let Sweeny know in the comments below…