Minnesota Twins free agent target profile: CC Sabathia

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 21: CC Sabathia /
Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins /

The 2017-2018 offseason is here for the Minnesota Twins. Who could be Twins be targeting in the free agent market?

Now that the Minnesota Twins have entered the offseason, they are looking to improve the roster through trades and through free agent signings. In this series, we’re going to examine individual players that the Minnesota Twins could have interest in this offseason through free agency.

We will not have any specific order to which player we highlight in this series, but we will look at each player’s past history, why he would be a good fit for the Minnesota Twins, and, last, the sort of contract likely to be required to sign the player.

We will continue the series with our first look at a starter beyond the top 4 on the market…

CC Sabathia, LHP

Sabathia was originally drafted out of high school in California as a tall, well-built lefty that some teams did not see adding much more to his repertoire due to his mature physicality already, which is why he fell to the 20th overall selection in 1998 by the Indians.

Sabathia proved to be not just everything he was in high school, but even more, showing additional velocity and significant improvements in his control and command as he blew through the minor leagues, reaching high-A as an 18 year-old in 1999. Baseball America ranked him as the #57 overall prospect in baseball after that season.

In 2000, he topped even that when, at 19 years old, he pushed through high-A and AA, throwing 146 1/3 innings, with a 3.57 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 72/159 BB/K ratio, ranking as the #7 overall prospect after the 2000 season.

If it weren’t for Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, Sabathia’s rookie campaign with the Indians would be remembered much more as one of the best in recent history from a pitcher. He made the rotation out of spring training, tossing 180 1/3 innings, with a 4.39 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and a 95/171 BB/K ratio. He topped that rookie performance with a six-inning gem against the Mariners in the playoffs, allowing 2 runs and picking up the win, pretty impressive work for a 20 year-old rookie.

Sabathia wouldn’t return to the postseason again until 2007, though he put up some fine seasons in between, making two All-Star teams in 2003 and 2004. In that 2007 season, Sabathia took the Indians rotation on his back, going 19-7 over 34 starts, leading the league with 241 innings pitched, with a 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 37/209 BB/K ratio. He won the American League Cy Young award for his efforts.

In 2008, Sabathia had a lot of support for back-to-back awards, but the issue was he was not in either the AL or NL long enough to truly factor in the award, but in just a half season with the Brewers after a mid-season trade, he had 7 complete games and a 1.65 ERA as he led the Brewers to the postseason, garnering almost as much MVP support as he did for the CY.

Sabathia signed with the Yankees in 2009 and one of the best starters in the league was now throwing for one of the best teams in the league, getting his first World Series title in his first year with the team. He won 74 games and threw 905 innings in his first 4 seasons with the Yankees, finishing in the top 5 of Cy Young voting 3 times.

Knee issues were the signal of times changing for the now 32 year-old Sabathia in 2013, and he went through a three year stretch where he struggled to get on the mound consistently. His once-dominating velocity that averaged mid-90s on his fastball now sat more around 90, his slider that used to be his definite out pitch didn’t have the same bite it once did.

Sabathia re-made himself as a pitcher, and the final product was seen the last two seasons, as he has added a cutter, and his pitch mix has gone from nearly 2/3 fastball to 23.5% fastball in 2017, 31.1% slider (a more sharp-biting variety than the sweeping style he once used for plenty of swing and miss), 30% cutter, and 15.3% change up.

While he missed starts in 2016 and 2017 due to injuries, primarily to his knee, the same knee that initially caused him to change his repertoire on the mound, he was healthy when the playoffs rolled around in 2017. He dominated over 4 starts, throwing 19 innings, with a 2.37 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and a 10/19 BB/K.

How he would fit?

Sabathia would need to be the second piece of a two-pitcher acquisition project. He provides excellent veteran leadership and would offer a much-needed left-handed arm in the rotation, but he will be 37 in 2017, and expecting a 200 inning season from Sabathia would be silly.

However, having Sabathia on hand as a pitcher like Stephen Gonsalves makes his way to the major leagues would be an absolute positive. His performance (and comfort) in the playoffs would also be a big thing for a young Twins team hoping to make it to the postseason and make a run once there in 2018.

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Contract demands

This is where the questions would lie with Sabathia. If he was sure to pitch even 180 innings over the next two seasons, he’d be the clear #5 starter on the market. However, his age and injury risk could have many teams shying away, so the market for his services are tough to gauge.

This part is known: Sabathia is not returning to make more money. He’s made over $240 million in his career. At this point in his career, he wants to win, and he wants a team that will give him a chance to do exactly that, along with possibly stamping his ticket to Cooperstown, which is already an impressive resume but could use a bit more boost to be put over the edge.

I would approach Sabathia with a contract offer of 1 season, $7 million guaranteed with significant incentives for 2018 along with a vesting option for 2019 if he pitches a certain amount of innings. If he requires 2 years to sign or more than $10 million guaranteed in that one year, you walk away.

Next: Top starting staff in Twins history

Should the Twins do it?

Certainly, it’d be tough for Twins fans to flip the switch and begin cheering for Sabathia after years of cheering against him, but after Jim Thome and Bartolo Colon became fan favorites late in their careers, Sabathia certainly could as well. Even if Darvish was signed, Sabathia could still be an option as a second arm signed in the offseason, but he would seem to be an excellent pairing with Lance Lynn.