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Sabathia at peace with delaying talks

Sabathia at peace with delaying talks

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WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Three years ago, C.C. Sabathia lived the dual lives of a guy working on a contract extension and a guy trying to prepare for a baseball season.

Though a deal was eventually worked out with the Indians three weeks into the 2005 season, Sabathia doesn't look back on the experience fondly.

"It was horrible," he said Tuesday. "I was on the phone with my agent all night. I was getting no sleep. I don't want to go through that again."

Sabathia, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, won't be going through it this year. Last week, he informed the Indians that he is tabling all talks of an extension until after the 2008 season, when he will be eligible for free agency.

And on Tuesday, Sabathia addressed that decision with reporters for the first -- and final -- time.

"The Indians sent a proposal over, and we really couldn't get any common ground [in] it," Sabathia said. "Coming into Spring Training here, I just wanted to focus on the team and not have it be a distraction. I've seen it be a distraction for guys in this clubhouse, and I don't want it to be that way for me. So I decided to put it on the shelf."

The proposal on the shelf is believed to have been a four-year offer, through 2012, worth between $17 million and $18 million a year.

By passing on that proposal and embarking upon '08, Sabathia, who will make $11.2 million this year, appears very likely to test the free-agent waters. Yet he insists he is happy in Cleveland and is hopeful a deal can be reached.

"Everybody knows the way I feel about this place and the organization and the city," he said. "I think we'll have plenty of time after the season to hopefully get something done. I just didn't want to make it a bigger distraction. I know it can be."

Ever since Sabathia posted the latest state of negotiations on his official Web site last week, the consensus among fans and the media has been that the Indians might as well assume their ace will be leaving them soon.

The 27-year-old Sabathia, who has been in the Indians' organization ever since he was a 17-year-old Draft pick in 1998, was asked what his message is to those who have that perception.

"You gotta have faith," he said. "We'll have plenty of time after the season to get it done. I just don't feel this is the time or place to do that, when this team is pretty much ready to get back to where it was last year."

Helping the Indians reach their championship goals has always been Sabathia's priority. And his 19 wins and 3.21 ERA in '07 were instrumental in the club winning 96 games and the AL Central crown.

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But Sabathia knows the Tribe's history when it comes to retaining superstar players capable of raking in big bucks elsewhere. He knows the sour taste that still rests in fans' mouths from the departures of Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, and the bitterness that still prevails when those players come to town.

Sabathia hopes the fans don't view him the same way this year.

"I put my heart on the line for this team and this organization and that city my whole career," he said. "I wouldn't expect the fans to react negatively to that."

Sabathia doesn't expect this situation to boil over into a negative this year. Part of the reason he tabled the talks, he said, was so that he wouldn't have to approach each start as if he has to throw a no-hitter to maintain his value.

"After I told my agents that I don't want to deal with it now, I haven't lost any sleep," he said. "I refuse to let this be a distraction. That's why I put the statement out and went about it the way I did. I refuse to let this run my life."

Sabathia is so adamant about that point that he said he has instructed his agents not to even approach him if the Indians up their offer during the season.

Sabathia, then, isn't giving the Indians much of a window of opportunity, time-wise, to re-sign him.

The free-agent filing period begins the day after the World Series ends, and for the next 15 days, a free agent may only negotiate with the team he last played for. Once that 15-day period expires, the player is free to sign anywhere he chooses.

Will Sabathia definitely file for free agency?

"I don't know yet," he said. "When I come to that road, I'll cross it."

The Indians tried to pave the road toward re-signing Sabathia a year ago, but, with free agency two seasons away, he wasn't willing to talk about an extension. And they made locking him up their No. 1 priority this winter, to no avail.

Sabathia, meanwhile, said the contract was the furthest thing from his mind in a winter in which collecting awards for his 2007 season kept him busy.

"It really wasn't bad," he said. "I hadn't thought about it at all. Not one bit. It was kind of easy this offseason, and that's the way I want it to be during the season."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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