The New York Yankees placed left-hander CC Sabathia on the 15-day disabled list on Monday after the hefty lefty exited Sunday’s game with pain in his surgically-repaired right knee.
Manager Joe Girardi was quoted as saying that there’s “a possibility” that Sabathia won’t pitch again this season, as the Yankees will shut down the 35 year-old for the next few weeks.
Sabathia was diagnosed with a degenerative knee condition in May of 2014, and underwent a procedure that July that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. However, it was not micro-fracture surgery – which is cited as being definitively career-threatening, if not career-ending.
The 212 game winner came into 2015 with high hopes, despite the knee condition that would always be of utmost concern in each of his starts. Equipped with a knee brace and, with what is now being reported as an altered landing spot for his leg to alleviate the pain, CC was healthy – but a shell of his former self.
In 138.1 innings, Sabathia posted an unsightly 5.27 ERA in 24 starts prior to him finally hitting the shelf. He absolutely owned left-handed batters (.183 BAA), but right-handed batters absolutely owned him (.327 BAA). His much talked about fastball velocity hovered around 90mph, and he’d only touch 93 or 94 by really rearing back.
Sabathia, of course, signed a 7-year deal with the Yankees in December 2008 and was the definition of an ace from 2009-2012, winning 74 games with a 3.23 ERA over that span and annually finishing in the top 5 of the Cy Young voting – not to mention turning in some stellar performances in the postseason. Afraid of losing him after his third season in pinstripes thanks to an opt-out clause, the Yankees jumped to re-sign him to a lucrative five-year extension, essentially securing him for one more season in 2016.
As fate would have it, that’s when CC’s career began to unwind. He had elbow surgery following the 2012 season and in 2013 Sabathia’s fastball, along with some of his weight disappeared, and he posted a career-worst 4.78 ERA. He lost even more weight in 2014 and was dreadful before his season was cut short by the knee injury.
For CC, 2015 as a whole had been incredibly disappointing. Yankees fans who not too long ago prided themselves in having Sabathia as their ace were calling for his demotion to the bullpen, if not his flat out release from the organization. CC was pitching better of late – but that was evidently due to him forgetting about his knee and “letting loose”, in hopes of garnering the results that he knew he could produce. Plenty has changed for Sabathia in recent years, but one thing has remained constant: his will to win.
Unfortunately, “letting loose” is something that he simply can’t do anymore without serious consequences. Such is the case with most players once they reach their mid-30s, and even more so with those who have a degenerative physical ailment. Whether it’s the back, hips, or in Sabathia’s case, the knees, these conditions are the ultimate nail in the coffin of whatever success a player once enjoyed.
Albeit slim, there’s a chance that Sabathia returns to the mound this season, and if he doesn’t, it’s almost certain that he’ll be back for 2016. Sadly for CC Sabathia and Yankees fans, he is no longer one of the best pitchers in baseball. That CC is long gone, and never coming back.