TAMPA, Fla. -- New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi on Thursday took advantage of the friendly auspices of the YES Network to announce a handful of very important personnel decisions: Masahiro Tanaka will start the season opener on Monday. Austin Romine, whose Yankees career appeared dead when he lost out to John Ryan Murphy last spring, rebounded to win the backup catcher's job this spring over the highly touted Gary Sanchez. And a couple of little-known relievers, Johnny Barbato and Luis Cessa, will be heading north with the club after Saturday's spring finale in Miami.
But it was a decision he did not announce that truly resonated on Thursday -- not as much because of its importance to the team, but because of the impact it no doubt had on one of the most highly paid, and formerly vital, members of the Yankees roster.
Perhaps for the first time since he was a Cleveland Indians rookie in 2001, CC Sabathia is heading into the final weekend of spring training not knowing where he stands with the ballclub, or what his job will be.
It is not a matter of money -- Sabathia will get his $25 million this year, and unless he ends the season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, he will get his $25 million next year. It's also not about being on the roster when the team heads north.
It has to be a matter of pride for a former Cy Young Award winner, a former ALCS MVP, a longtime ace and 11-time Opening Day starter to be in limbo with the start of a new season just four days away.
It is only slightly less humiliating for Ivan Nova, the other candidate for the Yankees' final starting slot. That's especially the case because on Wednesday, Nova turned in the best performance by a Yankees starter all spring -- six innings of two-hit, shutout ball against the Atlanta Braves. Nova, like Sabathia, will spend at least part of this weekend not knowing whether he is heading to the mound on April 9 to start the fifth game of the regular season against the Tigers in Detroit, or to the bullpen.
Asked what is delaying what will be his final big preseason decision, Girardi said: "It's a lot to think about. As I've said all along, when you have tough decisions, it doesn't mean it's always permanent. You have to prove yourself. There's a lot of different things to look at -- who we're playing, how each guy did, track records, the month of April. There's just a lot of things. You think about it and eventually we have to make a decision, but we just haven't come to it yet. It doesn't help that we're on the road Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday."
If you can figure out what any of that means in regard to Sabathia and Nova, you are better at this than I am.
The most logical explanation, perhaps, is that Girardi is stalling for time while general manager Brian Cashman tries to make a last-minute deal for Nova. (Obviously, nobody is going to take Sabathia at age 35 with his salary and current level of performance.)
Then again, it could be as simple as Girardi truly not being able to decide between the two -- Sabathia was 1-3 with a 5.51 ERA this spring; Nova 0-0 with a 4.13 ERA, a number that was helped enormously by his final outing -- or perhaps not knowing quite how to break the news to the proud Sabathia that for the first time in his major league career, he would not be a part of his team's starting rotation.
Either way, it is a disservice to both players to keep them hanging out to dry.
Asked Thursday if it was "fair" for a player of his stature to be left dangling at this stage of training camp, Sabathia could barely stifle a sick little smile. “That’s up to them," he said. "We’ll just have to wait and see. I’m ready to go. It’s just a waiting game.”
"Nobody told me nothing yet," Nova said earlier. "You guys will probably know before me."
Both men sit just a few feet removed in the clubhouse, and both have spent a lot of time the past few days sitting silently in front of their lockers, as if waiting for the phone to ring with good news. Or bad news. Or any news at all.
"It's all different this year," Sabathia said. "But it's part of the game. I just came here trying to get ready, to get healthy and get ready to have a good season. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that.”
In all honesty, it is not an easy call, and if you adhere to the adage that spring-training numbers are meaningless, then perhaps Sabathia should get the call based on his years of service and his excellent pitching in September 2015. Or, if you judge pitchers the way you handicap racehorses, maybe the nod goes to Nova because of his better recent form.
But either way, the Yankees must make a call, and out of respect for both men involved, they should make it soon. In fact, they should have made it already. As Girardi said, baseball decisions are never permanent, and how much is there to lose by choosing one guy while leaving yourself the option of replacing him with the other after a couple of starts? In any event, he has to make his call by Saturday, because whoever is pitching on April 9 is going to need to make some kind of a start, either in an extended spring game in Florida or in a simulated game at Yankee Stadium, no later than Monday.
"I would have liked to have known March 1 who our five starters were," Girardi said. "It just didn't present itself that way this year. But they're not pitching until Saturday of next week. I know it's a big announcement and it's probably a bigger announcement because of who it involves, but there really is no rush."
Maybe not. But here we are, four days before the season opener, and Luis Cessa knows what his job with the Yankees will be while CC Sabathia does not.
No matter what you think the right decision is, there is something not right about that.