Inbox: Sabathia still an ace for Yanks?

Inbox: Sabathia still an ace for Yanks?

In some ways, it seems difficult to believe that more than a month has passed since Curtis Granderson tracked down a fly ball from the Astros' Matt Dominguez on Sept. 29 in Houston, officially completing the Yankees' 2013 season with their 85th win of the year.

After the World Series concluded, the Yankees were prepared to hit the ground running. There figure to be many developments in the Bronx as the club retools this offseason, so we'll be regularly fielding questions like these from you, the readers, in the Yankees Inbox:

What do you think about CC Sabathia's future as the Yankees' ace? And will he be better in 2014?
-- Joanna M., West New York, N.J.

There were times this season when Sabathia legitimately seemed to be searching for explanations, but by the end of the year, there was a sense that he had accepted the situation and mentally decided how to handle it. It very well may be that Sabathia's years of high-octane velocity are behind him. As general manager Brian Cashman said, "If that [velocity] didn't come back this year, I don't know why it would start to come back next year."

Sabathia has pointed out that he carries a lot of miles on his left arm, but a bigger concern is that the home-run ball was a huge problem -- one that Sabathia and pitching coach Larry Rothschild must find a way to correct. Sabathia's strikeouts per nine innings are right where they were in 2009 and '10, so that's a good sign.

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Health is always a factor, but Sabathia has thus far delivered on his promise to provide the Yankees with many innings at the front of the rotation. As long as he continues to strike out batters and keep his walks down, the Yanks believe Sabathia will continue pitching toward the front end of their rotation for years to come. As far as Joe Girardi is concerned, Sabathia can be written in as the 2014 ace right now.

Why would the Yankees seriously consider Brian McCann when they're high on Gary Sanchez and he's just one season from the bigs?
-- Ian C., Atlanta

The old saying about how "prospects are suspects" until they prove themselves immediately jumps to mind. Sanchez has promise and his bat should help him advance up the ladder, but McCann is a finished product -- an All-Star with a left-handed power bat that would fit nicely in Yankee Stadium.

McCann is not a sure thing to come to the Bronx, as he'll have his share of suitors, but you can expect the Yankees to be in play. Even with all this talk about a $189 million payroll, New York will have some money to spread around, and a strong catcher should slot behind Robinson Cano and maybe Masahiro Tanaka on the shopping list.

The Yanks knew they were going defense-first with the Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart catching tandem this year. No one could have predicted Cervelli's eventful year, but in hindsight, it wouldn't have been so bad to keep Russell Martin around. Stewart and Cervelli are both arbitration-eligible, and probably at least one of them will be playing elsewhere in 2014, with Austin Romine and JR Murphy also in camp to work with the pitchers.

Where is Michael Pineda in his recovery? And where do the Yankees think he'll be next year?
-- Eric G., via Twitter

The good news is that Pineda finished the year healthy, according to Cashman, who said Rothschild and pitching coordinator Gil Patterson thought Pineda might benefit from some additional rest late in the season as he returns from right labrum surgery. The bad news is that two full seasons have passed since he was acquired from the Mariners and he still hasn't thrown a pitch in a big league game -- not that the Jesus Montero trade is working out swimmingly on Seattle's end.

The Yankees are quietly optimistic that Pineda will be a contributor at the big league level in 2014. They're trying to temper expectations, and Cashman even referenced the fact that Pineda has Minor League options remaining, a signal that he won't be guaranteed a rotation spot next spring. Pineda has battled with weight issues, so the Yanks will be watching closely to see what kind of shape he is in come February. But with only Sabathia and Ivan Nova locked into the rotation right now, it would clear up a lot of questions if Pineda's name can be penciled in.

The Yankees would like to be under $189 million but also have a number of players they would like to sign. Can they backload the contracts with most of the money coming after next season? For example, a three-year, $45 million contract with $10 million next year and $17.5 million the next two.
-- Jeff B., Las Vegas, Nev.

They could structure a contract that way, but it wouldn't help their goals as far as the luxury tax accounting goes. The tax assessment is calculated using the average annual value of the contract, plus any signing bonuses, not the actual yearly dollar amount. That means the hypothetical $45 million deal counts for $15 million toward the luxury tax threshold each year.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.