Signing Of Carmona A Si, Si; How About C.C.??

C.C. Sabathia

It's early, way too early, to form any firm opinions. But it's beginning to appear that the Indians definitely signed the right pitcher this past week when Fausto Carmona inked a multi-year contract that brings his family financial security and the Indians a great deal of salary stability.

Ignore Carmona's performance Saturday night in which he walked a career-high eight in only 3 1-3 innings.

Signing Carmona through 2014 for what could possibly cost "only" $48 million was a pleasant surprise in that with the success he enjoyed last year, it wouldn't have been long until the right-hander could present some very impressive credentials at the arbitration table. Now, the Indians need not worry about losing the pitcher who might very well inherit the role of "ace" next season.

Throughout the past off-season, much of the buzz about the Indians was in regards to whether the team would be able to sign 2007 Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia to a contract extension.

Sabathia, who can become a free agent at the end of the 2008 season, halted the talk when he announced prior to the start of spring training that he would not negotiate until the season ends.

If Sabathia has another solid season in 2008, he will likely sign a multi-year deal that will net him anywhere from $20-25 million per season, numbers that are unrealistic to pay one player for a mid-market team like the Indians.

Instead of breaking the bank to sign Sabathia, the Indians wisely used their funds to lock up Carmona. The first four years include $15 million in guaranteed money; the last four will range somewhere between $33 million and $38 million, depending upon incentives reached. The Indians, for obvious reasons, undoubtedly hope he reaches the high end.

In this day and age, it's almost unrealistic to think one team can keep its staff ace for seven years. And yet that could very well be the case if indeed Carmona does fill that role starting next year.

Not only does the team have a potential Cy Young Award winner locked up until the middle of the next decade, but the deal also will allow the team to sign other young players to multi-year deals, or even give some salary room to bring in a top-shelf free agent.

Carmona had, in his first two starts this year, shown that 2007 was no fluke. His 19-8 record and 3.06 ERA was among the best in baseball a year ago. When his sinker is working, which it does most of the time, opponents simply cannot get the ball in the air. He can be as dominating as any pitcher in the game.

Even Saturday, when Carmona's sinker was darting all over the place, he allowed only two hits and three runs, twice getting double plays after walking an Oakland batter.

In some ways, he can be more dominating than Sabathia. Make no mistake, when Sabathia has command of his pitches and total concentration, there are very left-handers active today who can completely shut down the opposition the way Sabathia does.

But when he's "off" his game, which was the case last year in the post-season and has been through his first three starts this year, he becomes very hittable.

It seems to me that when he puts too much pressure on himself to pitch well, he becomes nothing more than an average pitcher. And, while his refusal to talk contract during the season was designed to take pressure off him this year, it looks like it is having exactly the opposite affect.

And, I fear, the longer he struggles, the worse it will get.

You can tell yourself and those around you that you aren't thinking about the contract and the big bucks that will come along with it, but the real proof can be seen in your actions, not your words.

History shows that Sabathia, when he puts extra pressure on himself, rarely succeeds. That fact shows through every time he pitches at Oakland in front of his family and friends. Following last weekend's loss at McAfee Coliseum, he now has a career record of 1-4 with a 7-plus ERA in eight starts in Oakland.

And his inability to perform under pressure showed up again last October, when his 0-2 mark and 10.45 ERA against the Red Sox played a huge role in keeping the Indians out of the World Series.

This isn't meant to pick on Sabathia. The reality is that a lot of players fail to come up big when there's anything to distract them from their normal routine. Even a veteran like Paul Byrd, who was waiting to hear whether he would be suspended as a user of human growth hormone, now admits that it might have affected him during his first two woeful starts this year.

Even the best player in the game today, Alex Rodriguez, has a history of failing to perform in the post-season.

Sabathia now finds himself in a difficult situation. He could eat a little humble pie and accept the Tribe's four-year offer of approximately $17 million to $18 million per year starting in 2009.

Or, if he indeed is convinced that what we've seen thus far this year has nothing whatsoever to do with his contract situation, then he can continue to have things remain status quo.

It's a huge gamble because a poor season, while it won't stop a team like the Yankees from making him a big offer, might result in his getting little more than what the Indians offered him this past off-season.

The Indians were fortunate in that Carmona was willing to sign for an extended period. It wouldn't surprise me that, if Sabathia has a few more rough outings, he'll also sign a multi-year deal.

And, if that happens, the Indians' window of opportunity should be opened very, very wide for a long time to come.

As strange as it sounds, maybe we should be rooting against Sabathia in the short-term, knowing a few more bad outings might be what's best for the Indians in the long run now that they've locked up Carmona.

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