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What if the Brewers had signed CC Sabathia?

Doug Melvin is taking some heat lately for sending the Brewers into the 2009 season without the pitching depth necessary to reach the heights many fans expected. Hindsight is 20/20, but there's a relatively common sentiment among fans that Melvin should have seen the ineptitude of this pitching staff coming and made more moves to improve it.

Today, I want to take a look at one of the moves he tried to make, re-signing CC Sabathia, and see where that would have left the Brewers in 2009 and beyond.

What would the Brewers have gotten from Sabathia?

Let's assume, for the moment, that Sabathia would have accepted a five year, $100 million deal from the Brewers despite the fact that it would have been significantly below market value in both years and total dollars. Sabathia is having a pretty good season as a Yankee, posting a 3.64 ERA in 170.2 innings of work. FanGraphs estimates his value at 4.1 Wins Above Replacement for 2009.

I'll take the optimistic approach and assume that Sabathia would have performed somewhat better against weaker competition in the NL, and I'll even give him an added bonus for being better than the average pitcher at the plate. Let's say he would have been worth roughly 4.5 wins to the 2009 Brewers, to this point.

What would they have had to give up?

Paying $20 million per season to CC Sabathia would almost certainly have meant the end of their offseason spending, and probably created a need to cut some payroll. Here are three players that likely would not have been Brewers in 2009 if Sabathia had signed:

Braden Looper. Of the three players the Brewers would have missed out on, Looper is the one that would not have been missed. Looper has actually been worth -.6 WAR in 2009, so by replacing him with Sabathia, the Brewers gain roughly 5.1 wins. With that said, replacing Looper with Sabathia would have improved the top of the rotation but not its depth: guys like Mike Burns, Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva would still have been forced into action in the rotation.

Trevor Hoffman. It's unlikely the Brewers would have had $5 million to give to Hoffman after paying Sabathia. Hoffman has been as good or better than any of us could have expected from a 41 year old closer coming into the season, and has been worth 1.1 WAR. Since the back of the bullpen has been really weak this season, it's possible the arm that replaced Hoffman might actually have been significantly below replacement level (Jorge Julio, anyone?).

Mike Cameron. With CC Sabathia on the roster and an Opening Day payroll projected for $100 million, the Brewers probably wouldn't have been able to resist the temptation to trade Cameron and his $10 million salary to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera. Cameron has been one of the most valuable Brewers this season at 3 WAR. Assuming the Brewers got Cabrera in return, they would have saved about $8 million, but Cabrera has only posted 1.1 WAR.

Where does that leave them?

By adding Sabathia and Cabrera and losing Looper, Hoffman and Cameron, the Brewers would have added 5.6 WAR and lost 3.5, for a net gain of 2.1 wins. Adding two wins to the current Brewer team would make them 58-56, half a game behind the second place Cubs and five full games back of the Cardinals. As of this morning, Baseball Prospectus gave the Brewers a 3% chance of making the playoffs. The Cubs, who are slightly ahead of where the Brewers would be with Sabathia, are given an 18% chance. So, the Brewers would have committed $100 million to improve their 2009 playoff chances by roughly 12-14%.

Also worth noting: When Sabathia left for the Yankees, the Brewers received a supplemental draft pick and the Yankees' second round pick in the June draft, used to select Kentrail Davis and Max Walla. So, by signing Sabathia the Brewers would have lost both of those picks and the organizational depth that came with them.

Moving forward

Looper, Hoffman and Cameron represent roughly $22 million in salary that will be off the books after this season. Even with that salary gone, the Brewers already have roughly $75-80 million owed to players under contract or arbitration eligible for next season.

If Sabathia had signed, the Brewers would have already had between $95-100 million committed for 2010, creating the very real scenario that they'd need to cut even more payroll to avoid operating at a loss. J.J. Hardy probably would have been traded either way, but Prince Fielder may have had to join him if the Brewers were to have any kind of payroll flexibility to make a move this offseason.

Summing up

As I mentioned in the open, hindsight is 20/20 and we all wish the Brewers had more pitching. With that said, adding the best pitcher on the free agent market this offseason, even at below market value, would only have improved the Brewers by roughly two wins, and cost them a significant amount in flexibility down the road.

Doug Melvin is taking some heat for not doing more to shore up the pitching staff, but given the options he had, I think he did the best he could, given what he had to work with.