Yanks can't afford to lose CC

If CC Sabathia opts for free agency, the Yankees will have a giant hole in their rotation. Jerry Lai/US Presswire

While most of the early winter speculation involves the possible new homes for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, they could be joined by another superstar, CC Sabathia.

The Yankees ace, signed to a seven-year, $161 million contract, has the right to opt out this winter after the first three seasons of his deal. While the attrition rate for pitchers often results in buyer's remorse for teams that sign hurlers to big contracts, the Yankees have had nothing to complain about in Sabathia's performance. He hasn't won a Cy Young, but his record as a Yankee is 58-22 with a 3.18 ERA (38 percent better than league average) and a 226-inning yearly average with a month of the season still to go. By wins above replacement (WAR), Sabathia has been worth 15 to 17 wins over the past three seasons, justifying his $23 million annual salary.

And although he could simply play out the final four years of his deal, he also has a rare bit of leverage in contract negotiations with the Yankees.