CC Sabathia’s 19-year Major League career will come to an end in 2019.
A Cy Young winner. A six-time All-Star. A World Series winner. Sabathia’s place in the annals of baseball history is confirmed regardless of his 2019.
It all began in Cleveland for the 6”6’ lefty. Sabathia was an Ichiro Suzuki away from winning Rookie of the Year, hurling 180.1 solid innings in his first big league season. All-Star appearances followed in 2003 and 2004, though the Indians were unable to make the playoffs. Sabathia was an integral cog in an effective Cleveland machine as they won 93 games in 2005, but they again fell short of a postseason berth.
Two years later, Cleveland won three more games, in large part because of Sabathia’s dominance. The Indians suffered a heart-breaking Game Seven ALCS loss to the Red Sox, starting another postseason drought. Sabathia won the Cy Young, putting the team on his back with over 240 innings and four complete games, but it was his last campaign in Cleveland.
As the reigning American League Cy Young winner, Sabathia was traded in July 2008 with Cleveland struggling. Milwaukee sent Zach Jackson, Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson and a player to be named later to the Indians. That player was All-Star-to-be Michael Brantley.
Sabathia embarked on a superhuman second half with the Brewers. He threw seven complete games in 17 starts, including three shutouts. His ERA was 1.65.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be in the playoffs. Sabathia only started one game that year, giving up five earned runs in 3.2 innings to the Philadelphia Phillies.
He was a free agent in the winter of 2008. The New York Yankees came calling.
Sabathia signed the largest contract ever for a pitcher (at the time) at seven years and $161 million.
His first season in the Bronx ended in World Series glory. Sabathia was Opening Day starter, ALCS MVP and finished fourth in MVP voting. An instant hit.
He was dominant against the Angels to get the Yankees to the Fall Classic, pitching eight innings of one-run ball in both of his start. Against the Phillies in the World Series, he was effective if unspectacular.
The next season ended without a ring as the Yankees lost to the Rangers in the ALCS. Sabathia was an All-Star for a fourth time and finished third in Cy Young voting. He tore his meniscus in the offseason, which required surgery.
He returned in 2011 to become an All-Star again, throwing over 237 innings with a 3.00 ERA. Sabathia could have opted out after the season, when they disappointingly lost to the Tigers in the playoffs, but he committed his future to the Yankees.
The 2012 campaign was similar to the years previous. Sabathia threw over 237 innings again and he was an All-Star again. They fell to the Tigers in the playoffs again. Sabathia required surgery for a bone spur in the offseason.
The injuries and workload took its toll on Sabathia in 2013. His velocity dropped and he was forced to change what type of pitcher he was. He still passed 200 innings, but his ERA was up at 4.78.
Knee issues kept Sabathia to just eight starts in 2014 as he struggled again. There were concerns his career was over. He came back in 2015 and was useful, throwing 167.1 innings. Sabathia was no longer an ace, but his ability to eat innings made him a handy third or fourth starter.
In his age-35 campaign, he bounced back in a way few expected. A 3.91 ERA saw him complete his adaptation to a control pitcher. Another good year followed in 2017, which saw Sabathia sign a one-year $10 million extension with the Yankees after several more solid playoff performances.
What will turn out to be his penultimate year, the 2018 season, was another strong showing. Despite a hip injury early on, Sabathia was very good, recording a 3.65 ERA in over 150 innings as the Yankees won 100 games and made the playoffs, losing to the Red Sox in the Division Series.
Sabathia will, barring injury, finish his career with over 3,000 strikeouts and 250 wins. Only 16 pitchers have 3,000 strikeouts and just two (Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens) are not in the Hall of Fame. Only 47 have over 250 wins and just nine are not in the Hall.
We have years to discuss Sabathia’s Hall of Fame case (it’s pretty good). In the meantime, we can look at him as a pitcher that has had an overwhelming impact on three franchises.
He will be remembered in Cleveland for his development from rookie to Cy Young winner. In Milwaukee it will be for an astonishing half-season. At Yankee Stadium it will be for a championship, adaptation and longevity.
Sabathia could end his epic career with a second ring. The Yankees will hope they get treated to one more October Sabathia start.
Whatever happens this season, though, he will retire as an influential figure in 21st century baseball. Few players have been so significant for three franchises, and only a handful have competed at the highest level for 19 years.
Enjoy your last season. Enjoy retirement, CC.