Cliff Lee’s return to Philadelphia put the Yankees into a bit of a tailspin, but a tacit expectation that Andy Pettitte would return allowed the team to continue to preach patience. Lately, however, the tea leaves have not been as favorable. In a press conference for the upcoming Pinstripe Bowl, Mark Teixeira stated that Pettitte is still leaning toward retirement, a reality that seems to have evoked a hint of desperation. Speaking at the same event, Yankees’ president Randy Levine all but pleaded for the lefty to return by admitting, “Every day I hope Andy comes back. I think he knows we need him”.
Pettitte has never seemed like the type of guy to hold a grudge, but as he sits back on a Hawaii beach sipping a Mai Tai, you couldn’t blame him if Levine’s words were sweeter than the pineapple juice in his drink. After all, it was only two years ago when Pettitte was forced to return to the Yankees with hat in hand and accept an incentive laden deal. At that time, the Yankees had just signed C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, so the same urgency to re-sign the veteran lefty didn’t exist. Bargaining from a position of strength, the Yankees presented Pettitte with a “take it or leave it” offer of $10 million, which represented a significant pay cut from the $16 million salary he had earned the year before. After turning down that initial offer, Pettitte eventually agreed to a deal at the end of January. The terms of the contract he signed called for an even lower base salary of $5.5 million with incentives, nearly all of which he reached.
The bottom line is, I’m a man, and I guess it does take a shot at your pride a little bit. But when you put all that aside, I wanted to play for the New York Yankees. I wanted to be there and I wanted to play in that new stadium.” – Andy Pettitte, quoted in The New York Times, January 26, 2009
Needless to say, Pettitte won’t be forced to accept a below market deal this time around. Over the course of a few short months, the services of the veteran have gone from a luxury to an absolute necessity, so now it is Pettitte who holds all the cards. Of course, that assumes that he even wants to play. With anyone else, you could be sure that the song and dance about retirement was really a ploy intended to drive up the Yankees’ offer, but Pettitte’s indecision is likely genuine. Otherwise, his agent would also be soliciting offers from elsewhere, and that doesn’t seem to be the case.
If he decides to return, the Yankees would be more than happy to have Pettitte exact a small pound of flesh in the contract negotiations. Even though the team would still have work to do on its rotation, the return of Pettitte would provide them with enough leeway to continue practicing the art of patience. Should Pettitte actually retire, however, it could finally be time to push the panic button. All of a sudden, reclamation projects like Brad Penny, Jeff Francis, Freddy Garcia and Chris Young would become vital parts of the Yankees’ 2011 blueprint, which isn’t exactly a championship architecture.
The Yankees definitely need Andy Pettitte, and he knows it. But, does he need the Yankees? Somewhere amid the surf and sand, that question is being considered. Whether it’s with money, personal appeals or the lure of historical accomplishment, the Yankees need to do everything possible to influence the eventual decision. Otherwise, the entire organization will probably have the opportunity to join Pettitte on that beach early in October.
Reachable Team Milestones for Andy Pettitte
|1||Whitey Ford||55.3||Whitey Ford||236|
|2||Mariano Rivera||52.9||Red Ruffing||231|
|3||Red Ruffing||49.7||Andy Pettitte||203|
|4||Ron Guidry||44.4||Lefty Gomez||189|
|5||Lefty Gomez||43.2||Ron Guidry||170|
|6||Andy Pettitte||42.7||Bob Shawkey||168|
|1||Whitey Ford||1956||Whitey Ford||438|
|2||Andy Pettitte||1823||Andy Pettitte||396|
|3||Ron Guidry||1778||Red Ruffing||391|
|4||Red Ruffing||1526||Mel Stottlemyre||356|
|5||Lefty Gomez||1468||Ron Guidry||323|