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CC revels no longer being the big fish

CC revels no longer being the big fish

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MILWAUKEE -- The Yankees gave CC Sabathia 161 million reasons to come to New York. But might he also have been unsure about the future in Milwaukee?

Sabathia hinted as much on Thursday, when he was introduced alongside fell free agent pick-up A.J. Burnett at Yankee Stadium. The duo will earn nearly a quarter of a billion dollars over the length of their contracts, including Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million deal, which set a Major League record for a pitcher.

"In Milwaukee, they would have been looking at me to win every single game," Sabathia told reporters in his first public comments since season's end. "Of course, I expect to win, and I know that's going to be here [in New York], too. But I think it would have been even more immense pressure there, because they wouldn't have been able to put the pieces around to actually help me win. I think I can get that here."

Those comments must have struck a nerve at Miller Park, where Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is now searching for alternative arms on the free-agent market. When Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash met with Sabathia reps Greg Genske, Brian Peters and Scott Parker on the morning of Dec. 8, they expected to field some questions about the Brewers' plans going forward. Things like, How did the Brewers plan to replace free agent Ben Sheets? Who would be the team's closer? Was first baseman Prince Fielder, eligible for arbitration for the first time, on the trading block? What changes might be in store under new manager Ken Macha?

None of those questions were asked, according to Melvin and Ash.

"[Genske] said [Sabathia] was very familiar with our club and satisfied with all of those issues," Ash said. "That really was a short discussion. We gave a very direct opportunity to ask those questions, and it wasn't addressed."

Melvin said he offered to travel to California for a sit-down with Sabathia along with L.A.-based Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, an offer Attanasio himself later confirmed. Genske declined because "they didn't think it was necessary," Melvin said.

"It's not a matter of us having to recruit him," Melvin said that day. "It's probably a matter regarding the contract."

Hot Stove

Meaning the Brewers were offering less than the Yankees. When Sabathia accepted New York's offer, Milwaukee officials were preparing to turn their initial offer -- five years guaranteed plus two option years -- into a six-year guaranteed deal. But it still would have paid less than the record six-year, $137.5 million pact between the Mets and Johan Santana.

Sabathia and his agents probably were looking to eclipse the Santana contract to set a new standard for pitchers. Indeed, by making it a $161 million package over seven years, Sabathia's average annual salary is $23 million, a nose above Santana's $22.916. It also slotted Sabathia into fourth place on the list of the richest contracts in Major League history, just ahead of Manny Ramirez's eight-year, $160 million deal that expired this year.

Still, Sabathia was saying all the right things about Milwaukee on Thursday. The Brewers were one of three teams he considered, the others being the Yankees and Angels. He apparently didn't mention the Dodgers.

"I definitely had a great time there, and that clubhouse was awesome," he said of his half-season with the Brewers.

What a half-season it was. Acquired in a July 7 trade with the Indians, Sabathia was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, seven complete games and three shutouts in 17 regular-season starts. He went all nine innings to beat the Cubs on Sept. 28 to help clinch the National League Wild Card and Milwaukee's first postseason bid since 1982.

That game marked Sabathia's third consecutive start on three days' rest. He made it four in a row for Game 2 of the NL Division Series, which he lost to the Phillies.

His Iron Man act impressed the Yankees.

"CC put everything aside," New York GM Brian Cashman said Thursday. "He put his own free agency aside, his health at risk, potentially, for the good of the team. That's the type of guy any team would want.

"There's a lot of stories that this game has had in the last five years that we're not proud of. That's a story to be proud of. That's someone that put their own personal interest aside for the 24 guys and that fan base in Milwaukee, to get them to the postseason. We're buying an extreme talent, but we also believe we're buying an incredible personality."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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