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Sabathia rules out contract extension

Through a statement posted on his official web site, C.C. Sabathia has ruled out further negotiations on a contract extension until after the 2008 season.

There will be time after the season for the Indians and my representatives to discuss my contract status.  I remain hopeful that these discussions will result in a contract extension that will keep me with the franchise for many years to come.

Let me be really clear about this:  This means C.C. will not be a Cleveland Indian after 2008.  Despite his polite encouragement, there is no real rational reason to believe he will choose to re-sign with the Indians once he is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.  This announcement also contradicts directly his prior statements, in which he said he intended to engage with his agents in the process of working out a deal once he reported to Spring Training.

Even the most elite players often opt to extend contracts with their current teams before they reach free agency, passing up significant potential money in the process.  While it would have been an uncharacteristic risk, the Indians conceivably could have extended C.C.'s contract along the lines of other top pitchers in similar circumstances.  Indeed, the Indians reportedly made an opening offer to Sabathia in the range of $70 million over four additional years, ending in 2012, an offer more generous than those accepted by Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Mark Buerhle and Jake Peavy over the past 18 months.

It is unknown whether Sabathia's agents ever seriously engaged the Indians in negotiations after that initial offer.  No subsequent offer, counter-offer or discussion was ever reported.  What is known is that the Indians will not be serious bidders in a free agent market which in Sabathia's case conceivably will exceed $150 million.  And hometown discounts, to the extent that they are ever given, are rarely given by major players who are already looking at competing offers from other teams.

If Sabathia had any serious intention of accepting a shorter (and thus smaller) contractual commitment from the Indians, at any time, there is no conceivable reason why he wouldn't instruct his attorneys to strike the best deal possible right now.  At this moment, his value is at its peak, and he faces significant risk of a devaluing (or even career-ending) injury in the coming year.  He simply stands far more to gain by re-signing with the Indians now rather than doing so at the end of the season, and the Indians' bottom line is not going to move much in that time.  The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that he does not intend to settle for a shorter contractual commitment with the Indians, now or at any future point.

So unless Sabathia unexpectedly does a 180 on his negotiating stance mid-year, he really is as good as gone.  That being the only reasonable supposition, the Indians are now obliged to consider seriously any trade offers involving Sabathia over the next month, and one can assume that they will take seriously any offer that preserves their overall ability to compete in 2008.