Andy Pettitte returns to the Bronx; in the making for months

The New York Yankees announced midday Friday that the team had signed former ace Andy Pettitte to a one-year, $2.5 million minor league contract. The lefty from Baton Rouge, Louisiana begins his third stint with the Yankees organization early next week when he joins the team in Tampa, Florida.

The winningest pitcher in postseason history returns for one last run with the Yankees

When fellow writer Vinny Ginardi first relayed this story to the staff, I was amazed. Happy, but amazed. How in the blue pinstriped hell was this Yankees team going to fit in another starting pitcher? They already have six hurlers in competition for five spots: CC Sabathia locked in at SP1, with Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Hiroki Kuroda looking to fill out the rotation. Even if this “new” hurler has won 240 regular season games and is the winningest pitcher in postseason history

Then, I noticed a tweet from @YESNetwork; Yankees GM Brian Cashman was about to partake in a booth interview during the third inning of the Yankees’ spring training game with the Washington Nationals, broadcast live on the YES Network.

Cashman was very forward with his information, going as far as to run through a detailed description of the Pettitte-signing timeline. All timeline information is recapped directly from Cashman’s YES interview.

  • December 2011: Cashman goes on the Michael Kay radio show. Kay asks Cashman if he’s thought about checking in with Pettitte to see if he’s interested in coming back and helping the Yankee rotation out. Remember, this is before all the offseason moves Cashman makes. Cashman says no, and mentions that he would not want to bother Pettitte during his retirement, anyway. Apparently, this gets back to Pettitte and gets his juices flowing.

Pettitte contacts Cashman and lets him know that he’s thinking about coming back. Cashman is frank with Pettitte, telling him that he’s been speaking with Seattle about acquiring Pineda and plans to sign Kuroda. He offers a contract to Pettitte flat out: around $10 million if Pettitte is ready to commit to both playing and getting in playing shape. Pettitte is not ready to commit, and declines. Andy tells Brian he’ll throw for six weeks and get back to him, and not to hold on account of him.

  • January 2012: Cashman doesn’t hold. He makes the offseason pitching moves and relays the information to Pettitte. Andy ceases throwing… so Cashman thinks.
  • February 2012: Andy and his five rings join the Yankees in Tampa for spring training. Pettitte stays in Tampa for a few days as a guest instructor for the team. One day, Pettitte holds a closed door meeting with Cashman in Joe Girardi’s office. Cashman learns that Pettitte only stopped throwing for a few days. And with all the excitement in his Tampa stay, Pettitte wants to rejoin the team, for sure now.

According to Cashman’s story, he told his former and future pitcher that he did not have the budget to offer the same contract, nor could he offer a guaranteed spot. After conferring with almost every member of the team, Cashman offered Pettitte a one year, $2.5 million minor league contract.

And here we are. Pettitte is expected to be on the practice mound by early-next week.

I doubt I have to remind you how good Andy Pettitte is, but here we go; all stats courtesy of Owner of a 240-138 regular season record (.635 winning percentage) and a career 3.88 ERA, Pettitte has also struck out 2251 batters in 3055.1 innings pitched. His 19 wins in postseason play are tops in history, along with his 263 innings pitched. Andy was only getting better with age, hurling one of his best seasons in 2010 en route to the 27th NYY title. He went 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA, striking out 101 batters in 129 IP.

It’s evident that Pettitte won’t be ready to start the season on time; he only has three weeks with the team as a non-roster invitee in Tampa. Nor should the 39-year-old be expected to. The Yankees still need to sort out what’s going on with the top-six options prior to today.

This news probably doesn’t bode well for Phil Hughes. The fact that he’s proven capable of a critical bullpen role makes a transition for him back to the bullpen all too easy for management to ask for. Couple this with echoing whispers of Michael Pineda needing a low-pressure chance to lose extra weight and improve the speed of his fastball, and Pettitte’s role might be carved out. Both Hughes and Pineda have options remaining, so either could see themselves stashed in AAA at some point while Pettitte sees time in the majors. Ivan Nova also has options to burn, so don’t be surprised if last year’s breakout number two starter sees a few weeks with the “Empire State” Yankees (the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre stadium is getting renovated, displacing the Yankees’ AAA affiliate).

The Yankees will presumably take a few weeks into the season to stretch out Pettitte in AAA and see what he’s got. But he’s not going to spend prolonged time in the minors, despite his minor-league contract. As nice as it would be to have a seventh starter ready to be called upon as the season progresses, you don’t sign Andy Pettitte as an emergency option. And you can’t exactly send him back down once you call him up. Trading Garcia is another option.

My expectation? I feel like Pettitte’s going to throw even more chaos into an already complicated rotation. But overall, I feel it’ll result positively. The younger arms will gain learning experience, everyone will be challenged (Freddy Garcia in particular will need to prove his worth after coming back on a one-year contract), and if Andy needs to stay retired, it will be no skin off the back of the Yankees.

I anticipate the Yankees will want Pettitte sooner rather than later, if only to get a second lefty into the rotation.

Hey, another ring could make the Andy Pettitte/Hall of Fame argument even more heated. If it’s even an argument.

4 thoughts on “Andy Pettitte returns to the Bronx; in the making for months

  1. As much as I really love Pettitte, you have to think this hurts the confidence of their young hurlers a little bit. Pineda has been dogged by reporters about his low velocity all spring, and about how people are unsure if he can handle New York. Hughes, of course, is trying to come back after a really tough season. What they need right now is a show of confidence by the front office, not insinuations that a 39-year-old a year removed from baseball might take their spot.

  2. I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a comparison to Favre. Favre gets hate from a lot of people for realizing he didn’t stop loving the game and trying to come back and play. He jumped into a situation where the team had moved on without him and that led to the whole “scandal” of him joining another team. Pettite already left the Yankees once to pitch in Houston before returning to the Yanks. Now he retires and unretires to a team that has no room for him. The difference is that in baseball it’s a lot easier to make space for someone and the Yankees obviously don’t know what money concerns are. Now I personally don’t have a problem with it because I can fully understand someone who loves the game not being able to walk away but the point being Pettite will be viewed as the guy who loves to pitch and Favre will be viewed as the diva attention whore. I know Favre did it more than once but it rubs me the wrong way that he’s certainly not the only one to retire and come back (Jordan did it too).

    • Favre also did it with an active contract and held an organization hostage that was trying to figure out its future. It’s not a comparison. Retiring and coming back, word for word, is not the issue. The situations are different.

    • You might even have more of an argument if Pettitte demanded a spot on the team, but he signed a minor league contract. He knows he’s only making the team if he deserves it.

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