Let me stipulate first that CC Sabathia ranks among the greatest wonders of the baseball world. For a man that size to maintain a consistent delivery over huge amounts of innings, he has to be a tremendous athlete. If I wanted to win a pennant next year and I could pick any pitcher in the world, I would take him second, behind Johan Santana.
But that's not the question before us. Both Sabathia and Mark Teixeira will probably sign deals of at least six years this offseason for annual salaries of more than $20 million. If I had to pick one of the two under those terms, Teixeira would be my guy.
The reason is pretty simple: Pitchers get hurt. We're not talking about a 50-50 proposition here. Almost all of them suffer a serious arm injury at some point, and many never rebound to the same level. Just flip through a baseball encyclopedia and look at six-year chunks for starting pitchers. It's amazing how few of them have ever had a run of six healthy seasons.
Sabathia is already working on a streak of eight seasons of 180 innings or more. The odds that he will extend that run to 14 are incredibly poor.
Teixeira, on the other hand, seems like an unusually safe investment. Since his breakout season in 2004, he has never had anything resembling a poor offensive season. He'll be 29 in April and if his career follows a normal arc, he should have about four seasons left in his prime, followed by three or four more as a good player. As a switch-hitter, he's not unusually vulnerable to lefties or righties. He plays excellent defense, so even a down year at the plate wouldn't destroy his value. And first base isn't a position that destroys the body.
I have little doubt that the first baseman will be a useful commodity in five years. I have serious doubt that the pitcher will be. Teixeira over Sabathia is as simple as that.