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Indians Indians Archive The Seven Year Myth
Written by Cris Sykes

Cris Sykes
Here we sit, June 12, 2008.  The Indians are floundering below the .500 mark with Fausto Carmona on the disabled list and Jake Westbrook done for the season.  Sadly, the discussion amongst Indians fans has moved from the AL Central race to what the team should do with impending free agent C.C. Sabathia.  In his latest column, Cris Sykes says that anything short of hanging on to C.C. and resigning him this off-season would be madness, even if the team needs to give him a six or seven year deal to keep him in CTown.

Here we sit, June 12, 2008.  The Indians are floundering below the .500 mark with Fausto Carmona on the disabled list and Jake Westbrook done for the season.  Two more starters are sitting on the final year of their current contract.  Naturally, the big talk around town is ... what do we do with Carsten Charles Sabathia and Paul Byrd. 

There is an ever-growing majority who believe it is time to sell.  Move your assets and rebuild the Cleveland Indians.  Many fans feel the team has to essentially start all over, due primarily to the fact that there is a dearth of talent near the top of the teams farm system.  Others believe you can move that combination of pitchers for enough major league talent to consider the moves a re-load instead of a re-build. 

There are a few reasons the local fan base is in the trade Sabathia camp.  There are a lot of reasons the local fan base is in the trade Paul Byrd camp.  This will not be about keeping Paul Byrd.  Go ahead and trade him.  Get whatever it is you can.  He is replaceable. 

Who is not replaceable?  I am sure you have guessed it by now, but I do not believe that Mr. Sabathia is replaceable.  Probably not for decades.  Which is sad.  For an organization that went through the rebuild plan of Paul Dolan and Mark Shapiro earlier this decade, it is even sadder.  That plan was to re-build the organization through the starting rotation.  Sabathia was a large (yes, pun intended) part of that plan.  He was young, left-handed and could throw a baseball through the side of a Brinks Truck.  If he could ever harness his mechanics while learning to pitch rather than throw, he was going to become one of the top starters in the game. 

Of course, the defending American League Cy Young winner has come through.  While he may have had a few stinkers, including the fateful Game 5 of the 2007 American League Championship Series, he has been exactly what the plan called for.  A leader of the staff.  An ace.  The man who sets the tone for the next five days, and calls for the rest of the rotation to follow in his path.   

The reasons given most often as to why the team should not sign Sabathia?  Those two starts in October last year.  When he was unable to carry the Indians past the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.  Sabathia actually threw a pretty good game in Game 5 ... for six innings.  Too bad his manager left him hanging out to dry and sent him out for the seventh, after throwing almost 110 pitches through six.  Some will say an ace is expected to win that game, but sometimes you have to tip the cap.  Had Eric Wedge pulled C.C. after the sixth and his stat line was six innings, eight hits, two runs and six strikeouts, would those same fans be saying not to re-sign him?

The second reason given most is the fear of an injury given C.C.'s size.  Obviously, Sabathia is not taking over for Richard Simmons anytime soon, but to give up the best left-handed pitcher the organization has had (at least in my lifetime) because he COULD break down in 5 years?  Hogwash!  Everyone that steps on the field is in risk of missing the next 12-18 months.  Sabathia has stayed pretty healthy in his time here, and that is no reason to toss a defending Cy Young winner to the curb.   

General Manager Mark Shapiro has allowed the notion that it is not the dollars per season that will likely keep the Indians from signing C.C.  It is the number of years.  Sabathia wants a contract in the six or seven year range.  The Indians computer analysts have told the front office that the likelihood of Sabathia (or anyone else for that matter) breaking down is higher the longer the contract runs.  Well, that is not exactly included in Front Office for Dummies, but maybe it should be.  Of course the longer one is in your uniform, the more likely they are to eventually get hurt.  That still does not mean it will happen. 

The reason for being so against seven-year contracts is if the player were to get injured, the team would not be able to recover.  I would like to offer an alternative mindset.  Aren't you actually spreading the risk out over a longer period of time?  Is it really better to be in the situation the Indians find themselves in with Jake Westbrook?  As it stands right now, the Indians will be fortunate to get one and a half full seasons out of Westbrook's recent contract extension.   So, out of a four-year, $40M extension, they are looking to get less than half the value.  Had it been seven years, $70M, they would still have time to recover and get almost 80% value.

The final reason many feel the team needs to let Sabathia walk is the fact that the offense needs a drastic improvement.  We are losing games even when the starters give tremendous effort.  Well, cutting off one's nose to spite their face, is rarely a good plan.  All that will get you is losses by a final of 7-6 instead of 3-2.   

Losing a front of the rotation starter will have a trickle down effect on the rest of the staff.  Sure, in theory, Fausto Carmona may be ready to be the number one starter, but that is something we clearly do not know for sure yet.  There is a different mentality to matching up with someone else's best starter.  Not everyone can handle it.  Even if you concede Carmona is ready for that, the dominos continue to tumble.  Can Cliff Lee match up with number twos?  Is Aaron Laffey a number three starter, or a number four?  Who slides into the number four spot?  Jeremy Sowers?  Possibly.  Even his biggest supporters will tell you he becomes a bigger question mark the earlier in the rotation he is used.  Finally you get to the fifth starter slot, which will is a huge uncertainty now with new injuries to Adam Miller and Jake Westbrook, and no surefire options waiting in the wings at Akron or Buffalo.

I think the only plan to remain a top of the pack team without a rebuild is to keep the one sure thing you have as in tact as possible.  That would be the starting rotation.  The only way to keep the rotation in tact is to have the big lefty leading the way.   

So please, Mark Shapiro.  One time, send your computer analysts on a vacation, and do the right thing.  Forget the Seven Year Myth you are perpetuating and give Carsten Charles Sabathia the contract he has earned in his 233 starts covering almost 1500 innings pitched, all with this organization.  Make him a Cleveland lifer.  If not for you, or him, do it for the fans.  I don't want to be sitting around in 12 years debating whether he wears an Indians cap or Yankee cap into Cooperstown. 

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