"He'll be the centerpiece pitcher in a brand-new ballpark for a legendary team," said Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, who grew up in the Bronx. "I was disappointed, obviously, but not surprised by the ultimate outcome."
Sabathia's lead agent, Greg Genske, informed Brewers general manager Doug Melvin via telephone early Wednesday morning that while, "there are a lot of things to do yet, it looks like it's going to take place."
Sabathia's seven-year deal reportedly will pay $161 million, the fourth-richest deal for any player in Major League history. It seemed to blow away the Brewers' initial proposal of five years and $100 million, but one club source said for the first time on Wednesday that Milwaukee's initial offer also included two option years that could have extended the contract to seven total seasons.
Still, it wasn't enough.
"Once the Yankees got involved, we knew what we were up against," Melvin said. "We were hoping that maybe we were close enough that [Sabathia] might have reconsidered, but he got a very good deal. That would have been hard for him to walk away from."
Melvin, who made the only other known offer to Sabathia, woke up in the middle of the night and saw the news scroll across the bottom of the television screen. A few hours later, he received the call from Genske.
Melvin confirmed that the Brewers made a five-year offer to Sabathia for about $100 million, and he said he had "considered" adding a sixth year to the offer. The Brewers never formally made that addition, but on Tuesday, they were trying to set up another meeting with Sabathia's representatives.
"We were working on renewing our proposal to include a guaranteed sixth year, and we spent a lot of time over the past few days working on that," Attanasio said. "We would not have done that if we didn't think we were still in the mix.
"But money talks, I guess. I'm very happy for CC. I don't know that anyone has ever made as great an impact on a baseball team in a short time as he did. It's very difficult when you are talking about 25 guys on your active roster at any one time and 44 guys coming through your roster in the year that one player has the ability to carry you. He did."
In the end, given the disparity between offers from the Brewers and Yankees, "the sixth year wouldn't have made a difference," Melvin said.
Melvin said the Brewers were also considering Sabathia's request for an opt-out clause that would have allowed him to be a free agent after the first three years of the deal. Sabathia reportedly got a similar clause from the Yankees.
"We knew they were going to ask for that," Melvin said.
When news came of the agreement between Sabathia and the Yankees, Melvin knew why Genske never responded to the request for another meeting.
"When players get to free agency, we know the chances of keeping these guys are slim," Melvin said. "But we also made a very substantial offer to a special player. It wasn't enough.
"We were happy for CC because that's a pretty good deal, and the Yankees got themselves a pretty good pitcher. We had a good time with CC during the summer. He brought a lot of fun to our organization and our city, and that's the way we feel about it."
Melvin knew the Brewers couldn't offer the kind of dough Yankees GM Brian Cashman was putting on the table, but he was banking that Sabathia's second-half experience in Milwaukee would play a role in luring him back. Sabathia was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts after a July trade from Cleveland and helped pitch Milwaukee to the postseason for the first time in 26 years.
The Brewers' offer to Sabathia was by far the richest extended by the franchise. Jeff Suppan's four-year, $42 million contract is the biggest in club history for a free agent, and it was the richest in team history before Ryan Braun inked a seven-year extension in May that will pay between $45 million-$51 million.
"He couldn't pass up that money. No way," said Brewers manager Ken Macha. "Two teams were in on him and when one -- I'm not going to say, 'goes overboard' -- but they go over what the other is offering ... that's a deal you can't pass up."
Braun himself sent congratulations to Sabathia.
"I texted CC this morning to congratulate him, but for us, it's obviously disappointing," Braun said. "You can't fault him for making the decision that he made. It's hard to turn down that kind of money, especially when you consider that it sets a precedent, something I know is important to the Players Association. I'm sure he was feeling pressure from them."
Braun saw Sabathia last weekend, both at the Raiders-Chargers NFL game in San Diego and at the Pacquiao-De La Hoya boxing match in Las Vegas. Braun traveled in a group separate from Sabathia and Brewers infielder Bill Hall, but said they spent time together.
"I know for a fact that the Brewers threw a couple of different options at him, and he was very seriously considering the offer," Braun said. "I know that for a fact."
Now the Brewers must shift their focus to other available arms. Melvin has been clear that Sabathia was a "special case," and the Brewers do not intend simply to shift the money they would have spent on Sabathia to another top free-agent pitcher. That means they instead will have to kick the tires on lower-priced free agents or part with one of their young hitters in a trade. They have some interest in Randy Johnson, but were told the Big Unit wants to play on the West Coast.
Sabathia's deal was the talk of Day 3 of the Winter Meetings.
"He was such a great addition to the Brewers last year," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "Doug Melvin is a good friend of mine, and I feel bad for him in some ways. If we could assure ourselves that the results would always be the way they were last year in the division, it would be better in the division that he stayed.
"From a competitor point of view, he's such a huge important factor in their situation, it will be tough for them to overcome that."
Melvin found a positive.
"At least we know now," Melvin said. "We'll take a look and see what pitching there is [available], and we'll make a determination if we can get any of these guys."
Today, Milwaukee could put together a rotation of right-handers Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, Suppan and Seth McClung and left-hander Manny Parra, with little depth beyond that to guard against injuries unless the team is willing to move Carlos Villanueva back to the rotation. A club official said on Tuesday that Villanueva is not completely out of the question if such a move becomes necessary, but that would open yet another hole in what today is a thin bullpen.
Sabathia, 28, had control of the free-agent market thanks to his fabulous second half in Milwaukee and a long track record of durability. He made starting on three days' rest a routine over the final two weeks of the 2008 regular season, pitching a complete game to beat the Cubs in the regular-season finale to position Milwaukee to win the National League Wild Card. It was the team's first postseason trip since 1982.
The Brewers were bounced by the eventual World Series champion Phillies in the NL Division Series, but Milwaukee officials never regretted the decision to part with four prospects -- including top hitter Matt LaPorta -- to land Sabathia in a July 7 trade. Sabathia completed seven of his 17 Brewers starts, including three shutouts.