Baseball Notebook/Winter Meetings: Yankees, Sabathia in $161 million deal

Once contract is signed, it will be record for pitcher

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There is no recession for the New York Yankees.

Flexing the economic muscle of their new billion-dollar ballpark and ignoring industry-wide nervousness over big-money deals, the Yankees landed the top free-agent pitcher yesterday, agreeing to the framework of a $161 million, seven-year contract with CC Sabathia.

The amount is a record for a pitcher and the fourth-highest contract total in baseball. It signaled a new willingness by the Yankees to spend in an attempt to regain dominance and win the World Series for the first time since 2000.

Sabathia's contract figure seems appropriate because in February the Yankees move across 161st Street in the Bronx to their $1.3 billion palace, where tickets cost up to $2,500, fans can watch games at a martini bar and the clubhouse contains a swimming pool and hot tub among many conveniences. The way the schedule lines up, there is a good chance Sabathia would pitch the opener there April 16 against Cleveland -- which traded him to Milwaukee in July.

"It illustrates that baseball is a very different economic model than the real world," said Scott Boras, the agent for Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and other free agents also seeking big deals.

The Yankees and Sabathia's agents still need to work out all the details and the pitcher must pass a physical, a baseball official familiar with the talks told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been completed.

The deal, as currently constructed, gives Sabathia the right to opt out after three seasons and become a free agent.

The two New York teams have made the biggest splashes in the slow-moving free-agent market. The Mets, moving into $800 million Citi Field, finalized their $37 million, three-year contract with closer Francisco Rodriguez yesterday.

While other teams worry about losing revenue, the New York teams appear to be awash with cash. The Yankees have the sport's three biggest current contracts, with Sabathia slotting behind third baseman Alex Rodriguez ($275 million, 10 years) and shortstop Derek Jeter ($189 million, 10 years).

New York hopes to re-sign Andy Pettitte, who also is a free agent, and has intensified talks this week for free-agent pitchers A.J. Burnett and Ben Sheets.

"I think that would be expected. I think that's just the way it is," said Cleveland's Eric Wedge, Sabathia's old manager, while also noting: "I think everybody has to be respectful to the economy and what people are going through. There's nobody who should be oblivious to it."

Sabathia's deal tops the previous mark for a pitcher, a $137.5 million, six-year contract agreed to by Johan Santana and the New York Mets last winter. His $23 million average salary is just ahead of Santana's $22.9 million

Sabathia went 11-2 for the Brewers after the trade, throwing seven complete games and three shutouts in 17 starts as Milwaukee made the playoffs for the first time since 1982. He is 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five postseason starts and was 1-4 with an 8.61 ERA at the old Yankees Stadium.

Dodgers

Los Angeles finalized a $1.25 million, one-year contract with free-agent utilityman Mark Loretta yesterday. It was the second deal in as many days for general manager Ned Colletti, who completed a $17.5 million, three-year contract with third baseman Casey Blake Tuesday.



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