The Yankees and the pitcher's agents had not yet reached a letter of agreement, a baseball official familiar with the talks said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because a deal had not yet been finalized. The official said the Yankees were confident an agreement would soon be reached.
While some teams would consider an agreement on the total value a preliminary deal, the Yankees are notorious sticklers for wanting contract guarantee language finalized before admitting an agreement is in place. Any agreement would be subject to the 28-year-old left-hander passing a physical.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman left the winter meetings Tuesday and traveled to the San Francisco area to meet with the pitcher and his wife. Cashman was headed back to Las Vegas on Wednesday, the official said.
Sabathia's deal will top the previous mark for a pitcher, a $137.5 million, six-year contract agreed to by Johan Santana and the New York Mets last winter. The Mets made a key move Tuesday by signing another coveted free-agent pitcher, closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Among all players, it will trail Alex Rodriguez's $252 million, 10-year agreement with Texas, A-Rod's $275 million, 10-year deal with the Yankees and Derek Jeter's $189 million, 10-year contract with the Yankees, ending up in the same area as Manny Ramirez's $160 million, eight-year contract with Boston.
New York made a six-year offer to Sabathia on Nov. 14 and met with him Sunday and Monday in Las Vegas. The first hint of possible movement came Tuesday afternoon when Cashman's daily briefing with reporters was canceled by the team, with spokesman Jason Zillo saying, "Brian is off hotel property and unavailable for the rest of the evening."
Cashman traveled after being invited by Sabathia, the official said.
Signing Sabathia was the No. 1 offseason priority for the Yankees, whose streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances ended this year. He would join a rotation that includes Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.
New York hopes to re-sign Andy Pettitte, who also is a free agent, and has had talks this week with Ben Sheets and the agents for A.J. Burnett.
Many of Sabathia's questions to the Yankees had been about what it would be like to pitch in New York, and part of the reason Cashman traveled to California was to meet with the Sabathia's wife, Amber, along with the player to discuss that issue.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi doesn't think Sabathia is reticent to pitch in New York, where failure leads to harsh criticism.
"He's been in the American League long enough to know what New York is about," he said Tuesday. "And CC's personality, I think, would work very well here. He's a guy that wants the ball every fifth day. He's a standup guy, he's a very honest young man. So I think his personality will be great."
New York spoke Tuesday with the agents for Burnett, saying it was prepared to exceed what the Yankees believe is the offer he received from Atlanta, a guaranteed four-year deal worth about $60 million. They also met Monday with Sheets and were examining his medical records.
"When you look at his numbers, they stack up against anyone," Girardi said. "I think injuries have kind of kept him out of that (top) class, but when he's on the mound, he's dynamite."
Burnett, Sheets and Derek Lowe, who also interests the Yankees, were likely to wait until after Sabathia to make their decisions.
"I'm not sure who is going to be the first big name to go, but I think once someone goes, you'll see it maybe pick up a little bit," Girardi said.
After being slowed by injuries during his first two seasons in Toronto, Burnett was 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five starts against the Yankees last season.
"I know he pitches well every time I've seen him in New York, so that makes me believe that he would be OK," Girardi said.