TAMPA, Fla. -- In a reversal that could further complicate the New York Yankees' pitching future, CC Sabathia has changed course and has left the door open to opt out of his seven-year, $161 million contract after this season.
"I have no idea [if I will opt out]," a noticeably lighter Sabathia said in the Yankees clubhouse Monday morning, as pitchers and catchers reported. "It is still in my contract. Anything is possible."
Sabathia can opt out of his deal after the third year, which comes after this season. Since the middle of last season, the left-hander has repeatedly stated that he likes New York and playing for the Yankees and would not try to become a free agent.
Sabathia, 30, originally had the clause put into his contract because he was hesitant about coming to the Yankees. Since then Sabathia has embraced being a Yankee and truly seems to love being part of the team's tradition.
The Yankees' club policy is not to negotiate with players during multiyear contracts. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman sounded as if he is leaning toward continuing with club policy, but he left the door slightly ajar to do something before the end of the season.
"I always leave that little window open that that could always change, but I don't anticipate it changing, to be honest, because that policy has been in place for quite some time," he said.
Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner doesn't think Sabathia will opt out.
"I think he's happy here, and now he really knows what it's like to be a Yankee," Steinbrenner said. "Had another excellent year last year. I think he's here to stay."
Steinbrenner also feels Sabathia won't use the clause to seek an extension or additional money.
"Once you've become a Yankee and you've won as a Yankee, it's a little difficult to go anywhere else, I would assume," Steinbrenner said. "We're going to be in every year ... every single year. You can't say that about any other team, except maybe the Red Sox, but they weren't in it last year. And the Phillies are keeping it going, but how long will that last?
"So, we're the only team you can be assured, as long as we own them, are going to be in it every single year," Steinbrenner added. "We're going to be a major contender to win the championship every year."
It makes sense from a business perspective for Sabathia to at least threaten to use the clause. He went 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA and finished third in Cy Young voting last season. His first season with New York was strong as well (19-8, 3.37). Another strong year and the Yankees might be eager to add more years and dollars to his deal.
It's not clear, though, how much more the market will bear for a player of his age and if Sabathia would be willing to leave about $90 million guaranteed on the table. Free agent Cliff Lee flirted with the Yankees before signing with the Phillies for five years and $120 million at age 32. That deal averages just about a $1 million more per season than the deal for Sabathia, who would be looking for a new deal at age 31 if he opts out.
The Yankees' staff desperately needs Sabathia to perform this year and beyond. With Sabathia's good friend Lee saying no to the Yankees and Andy Pettitte retiring, the Yankees have Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett behind Sabathia. After that, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Sergio Mitre will fight for the fourth and fifth starter spots.
Sabathia, who had knee surgery this offseason, said he is 25 pounds lighter after he stopped eating full boxes of Cap'n Crunch. The 6-foot-7 Sabathia had reported to past camps well over 300 pounds. With the assist of a trainer and a chef, he has an eye on the future.
"I'm getting older," Sabathia said. "I want to try and pitch as long as I can. Hopefully, another eight to 10 years, and this is just the first step in trying to do that."
Sabathia has stated that he wants to pitch at least until he's 40. He would be 35 at the end of this current deal with the Yankees. He was reminded Monday that he has said that he would see that contract to the end.
"I said that," Sabathia said. "I'm here to try and help the team win. I don't want to talk about that all year."
When a reporter pressed, Sabathia quickly turned the attention to the present.
"I'm here," Sabathia said. "I'm in the clubhouse."
Steinbrenner's focusing on this season, too.
"I'm not worried about it," Steinbrenner said. "I haven't heard anybody say anything about it. It's part of his contract, yeah, but I think he's happy here. He made that clear last year. Once you become a Yankee and you've won as a Yankee, and you're getting paid a lot of money also, it's a little difficult to go anywhere else, I would assume. I'm not going to get into any of that stuff. Let's just worry about this season first, because I know that's what [Sabathia's] thinking about."
Andrew Marchand covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Wallace Matthews and The Associated Press was used in this report.