The two sides are on the verge of an agreement after three days of face-to-face talks between the Yankees and Sabathia. There's still a few things to talk through, but there are no major hurdles.
But the Yankees are not stopping with Sabathia. They also are now working hard to try to sign two more top free-agent pitchers, Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett, to round out a revamped rotation. Ben Sheets appears to be the next one on their pecking order if either Lowe or Burnett should sign elsewhere.
How far can the Yankees go? Sources tell SI.com that Mark Teixeira is all but out of their picture now (the Angels, Red Sox and Nationals are leading there), as he's going to get even more money than Sabathia, but that the Yankees will still get in the bidding for mercurial superstar slugger Manny Ramirez. Yankees co-owner Hank Steinbrenner and others in the organization would love to add ex-Boston star Ramirez if they can.
Sabathia apparently became convinced after extensive meetings with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman that he and his family of five could live in New York. Cashman flew to the Bay Area to meet with Sabathia Tuesday and finalize the deal, which makes Sabathia the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.
The Yankees more than a month ago made an initial market-setting $140-million, six-year offer to Sabathia, and no other team stepped forward to challenge that figure. The Brewers, Angels and Red Sox are all believed to have made offers but none in the range of $140 million, much less $161 million.
The Giants also were starting to consider whether to step into the fray. But no team was willing to come close to matching the Yankees' money. The final total will eclipse the $137.5 million deal the Mets gave Johan Santana last winter by close to $25 million, but Santana has a very reachable vesting option for a seventh year, so the total payout will be virtually identical, assuming Santana's contract vests.
Sabathia was said be a friend to have become "very frustrated'' in recent days that no worthy offers were coming in to fulfill his California dream. Sabathia, from Vallejo in Northern California, had said all along that he preferred to go home to California to pitch and live. But in the end, who really leaves $60 million on the table?
Sabathia expressed some concerns in the first two talks here with Cashman about coming to New York after starring for six seasons in Cleveland and Milwaukee and dreaming of California. Sabathia's clear preference was to play in the National league, as well, and is said to prefer the idea of spending spring in Arizona. So the Yankees clearly had some hurdles to scale to land Sabathia. That it is why they were intent on standing out monetarily, and they did that.
Likewise, the Yankees are intent not to spend a second straight season out of the playoffs, and used their largesse to enhance their team. It didn't hurt that they are moving into a new ballpark and had $88 million in contracts coming off the books. While they aren't insulated from the economic crash in the country, they are somewhat less affected than the other 29 teams.
The Yankees' new rotation is starting to take shape as they are also in serious negotiations with free agent pitchers Lowe and Burnett. The Phillies and others were in the bidding for Lowe, as well, but the Yankees and Lowe were discussing a contract for four years that was believed to be worth about $66 million late Tuesday and there appears to be a decent chance he'll wind up in New York.
The Yankees are also talking to Burnett about a deal that could reach five years. However, there's keen competition for him, believed to be most prominently from the Braves. The Yankees are intent on signing three starters, so if they miss out on either Lowe or Burnett, they will likely target Ben Sheets as the final rotation piece.
Even if they continue to add starting pitching, longtime Yankee Andy Pettitte could still be brought back because even if the team were to have six starters, it would give them the option of moving Joba Chamberlain back to the bullpen, where he thrived before being moved to the rotation last June.
Burnett is talking to the Braves, as well, and there has been a feeling Atlanta is the favorite to lock him up. The Yankees are in the fight, though, and could still wind up with their top three pitching choices.
The New York Post first mentioned Sabathia was set to sign on its Web site Wednesday morning.