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Yankees Overbidding for Sabathia?

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The New York Yankees reportedly offered free agent left-hander CC Sabathia the biggest pitching contract in major-league history Friday, which drew a somewhat puzzled response from Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.

"It sounds like they're overbidding," Melvin said. "If the speculation is true that we've offered CC $100 million, why would you offer $140 million? Why wouldn't you offer $110 million?"

That's from today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinal. I'm not sure what Doug Melvin's point is here. At first glance, he comes off as a whiny, small-market GM. As always, though, there are a few ways to look at what he said:

  1. Melvin's initial offer was more than $100 million, but that number was leaked to try and get other teams to go under the Brewers' offer. The Yankees' offer shattered those plans.
  2. Melvin is upset that this deal might make it that much harder for the Brewers to go after any other free agent pitchers this winter.
  3. Melvin is frustrated at the way this unfolded, was venting, and it came out poorly. Which leads to...
  4. Melvin was joking around. Tom Haudricourt said there would a Melvin joke about the Yankees overbidding somewhere in today's story.

Feel free to add your own more logical reasons below. Here's more detail on mine.

First up, the idea Melvin was trying to undermine other teams. I'm sure Melvin feels his offer is a decent one that isn't much below market value. At the same time, he realizes that the Brewers clearly have an upper limit on what they can afford to offer. By leaking his offer is around $100 million for five years, Melvin may have been trying to keep other teams' initial offers in the $120-130 million for six years range. If the Brewers' real offer was closer to $105-110 million for five years, they would still be in the thick of things. At that point, Melvin could do the same thing he did when acquiring CC: give the other side a few days to come up with an answer, pointing out the deal is competitive and Milwaukee loves itself some Sabathia. Unfortunately, the Yankees' $140 million offer is above what the Brewers could match. Though not unexpected, it certainly wrecks the above plan. Furthermore, instead of Melvin confidently asking for an answer by next week, doing so now makes it look like he wants the misery to end sooner.

But maybe it's not really about Sabathia after all. If CC was willing to take the Brewers' offer, that would be great and Melvin wouldn't have to worry about the price of other good starting pitchers on the market. Even if he signed a similar deal with another team, the backup plans aren't going to cost much more than what he figured. However, if CC signs a richer deal, that raises the cost of any other starter out there. If Plan B goes from $11-12 million per season to $15 million, that hurts the Brewers. In this scenario, Melvin could tolerate CC getting paid $20 million per year (whether by the Brewers or not). By jacking up CC's price by $3 million per season ("overbidding") on the first day of free agency, the starting pitcher market just got smaller for Milwaukee. Again not unexpected, but painful all the same.

Now let's turn to the frustration angle. It must be tough to be a small-market GM. One day you're ending a playoff drought that lasted more than a quarter-century and the next day half the team is exploring free agency. You know you can't sign everyone back (and, truthfully, you wouldn't offer to a couple guys), but you'd like to keep certain pieces. The fans are giddy in the wake of the playoffs and are seeing 30-flag trophies each season for the next decade. You know a good portion of those fans will stick around regardless. After all, they stayed when Scotty Pods was traded, they tolerated shipping Lyle Overbay to a different country, they understood the Carlos Lee trade, and they gave you the benefit of the doubt in the Cordero departure. But CC is different. In the eyes of millions, he's why you broke that playoff drought. If there's someone to keep around, it's CC. What's more, you think you've got a real chance to keep him. The owner is willing to open the checkbook, the guy seemed happy in Milwaukee, and you've got a competitive offer out there. Then the big boys step in, blow your offer out of the water, and reaffirm that you really didn't have a chance in the first place. While you're enjoying Quantum of Solace at the local moving picture show and feigning interest at the 34th mustache comb your grandkids bought you "just because," those fast talkers from New York wrecked your whole damn plan. Anyone would be frustrated.

So when the local beat reporter calls you to get your reaction to the New York offer, you darkly suggest they overbid. You realize this sounds like sour grapes and that's not the image you want out there, but at the same time you don't really want to hide how you feel. So you chuckle and try and say it was a joke. The reporter will understand, he's been around the game, he knows what's up. He'll get the idea it was a joke out there. You don't really think about it until Sunday, when you are perusing the reporter's Sunday column and you remember why he's not a comic. It's not a big deal though, life goes on, and he's still a decent guy. But wait! Now the quote has hit ESPN, and they aren't acting like you're joking at all. They make you seem like another of those whiny small-market GM's upset at the business aspect of today's game. Truthfully, you are, but you'll slowly back away from those comments in the days and weeks ahead. You'll lap up the sympathy from Brewers fans who will blame the Yankees for Sabathia leaving, not you. Right now, though, you're looking for Brian Shouse's phone number. They still like him, too. Just another day in Milwaukee...