Sabathia was a free agent this offseason, but quickly resigned in the Bronx on an $8 million, one-year deal.
The 38-year-old left-hander had a solid 2018 season. His 3.65 ERA is a smidgen lower than his career mark and he threw 153 innings – only Luis Severino (191.1) and Mashairo Tanaka (153.2) got more outs for the Yankees.
Sabathia is obviously not the ace he once was, but this is a big moment for the Yankees. Their rotation ultimately cost them in the playoffs and was their main weakness during the regular season. This offseason is set to be all about pitching, getting another year out of Sabathia is a step forward for the Yankees front office.
He will be a superb fifth or sixth starter, and we could see the Yankees put the veteran in the bullpen. Sabathia is, if nothing else, an insurance policy if other targets do not arrive in the Bronx or if they are hit hard by injuries.
Gardner, like Sabathia, took a pay cut. The speedy outfielder is a Yankee through and through, a former All-Star and a World Series champion. Keeping him around – even with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks – is a no brainer. Gardner is a handy defensive replacement, pinch-hitter, pinch-runner and a vital veteran presence.
The pair struggled towards the end of the season. That is likely just fatigue. Batters hit over .300 against Sabathia in September, while Gardner hit .209 over 50 games in August and September. The work load was higher than it would have been because teammates were injured, and it obviously impacted how they performed late on.
If managed correctly, Sabathia and Gardner can still contribute significantly on the field. They combined for over 5 bWAR in 2018 – these are not sentimental contracts.
Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin and Manny Machado have all the free agent attention right now. James Paxton and Corey Kluber are the talk of the trade market. The smaller deals can often be the difference-makers, though, and the Yankees have got their offseason off to a great start with the retention of two franchise icons.