Opt-out clause key to Sabathia going to Yankees

LAS VEGAS – Baseball's perennial high-rollers, the New York Yankees, scored the biggest coup of the winter meetings when CC Sabathia reached preliminary agreement on a deal that will pay him $161 million over the next seven years.

The deal, according to a source close to negotiations, gives Sabathia the right to opt out of the contract after the first three years, by which time he will have been paid $69 million. Sabathia appreciated the clause because it satisfied concerns he had about living in New York and the impact it might have on his wife and three children.

He will make his opt-out decision after the 2011 season with four years and $92 million remaining on the deal, at which time he could renegotiate, leave or stay.

There has been no official confirmation of the deal. An announcement is not expected until after Sabathia passes a physical, which he is expected to undergo in New York within the next couple of days.

The New York Post was the first to report that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman got his man after visiting Sabathia and his wife, Amber, in San Francisco, the third straight day Cashman had met with the 28-year-old left-hander.

Sabathia's agreement could signal the start of some serious dealing the next several days, with the Yankees also heavily in the market for at least one more free-agent starter from the top-tier list of A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe and Ben Sheets. The Yankees are facing strong competition from Atlanta for Burnett, while the Phillies and possibly the Red Sox remain players for Lowe.

Sabathia now tops a rotation that will also have Chien-Ming Wang back from injury and the emerging Joba Chamberlain. The Yankees also are trying to persuade veteran Andy Pettitte to come back for another year.

And while the Yankees' primary focuse remains pitching, there is the possibility that Cashman, flush with cash, could also pose a run at Mark Teixeira, though the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels are the front-runners for the switch-hitting first baseman.

The Yankees' offer – with Cashman adding a year and $21 million to the original six-year, $140 million proposal the Bombers made weeks ago – eroded whatever preference Sabathia had to remain on the West Coast. With the Yankees having missed the playoffs for the first time after 13 straight appearances, Cashman was under pressure to show that he could still deliver the biggest prize on the market.

Another factor was that no West Coast team had made Sabathia an offer, a fact that must have weighed on the pitcher as the Yankees made their full-court press. The Milwaukee Brewers, who Sabathia led to the playoffs after a mid-season trade from the Cleveland Indians, were the only other team to make him an offer, and it was for five years and $100 million.