Sabathia seemed to master the arduous transition from power pitcher to one who relies on precision and movement, and he had his best year since he was named to the All-Star team in 2012. Still, he missed a month with a hamstring injury and a start in August, when he hurt his knee — an injury that he initially feared would be career-threatening.
The uncertainty around Sabathia is why the Yankees will continue to scour the trade market for another starter, even though they now have five pitchers for their rotation — Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery and Sabathia — as well as the top pitching prospect Chance Adams ready for a shot.
Among those the Yankees have inquired about are the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, the Detroit Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer and the Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Patrick Corbin — all one-time All-Stars who are at least two seasons away from reaching free agency.
A deal for any of them would require the Yankees to give up talent from their deep farm system, but a trade is preferable to the free-agent market, which would make it harder for the Yankees to remain below the $197 luxury tax threshold next season. The Yankees have deemed this critical, because they can then avoid onerous penalties if they go over the threshold for a rich free-agent class a year from now.
With their recent salary-dumping trade of Chase Headley, the Yankees will be about $14 million under the threshold after signing Sabathia.
Either as a fallback, or as a negotiating tactic, Sabathia met with at least two other teams in recent weeks: the Los Angeles Angels and the Toronto Blue Jays. But it seemed clear that his preferred destination was the place where he had worked since 2009, and Saturday’s decision erased all doubt.