11:21 pm Mar. 16, 2012
The funny thing about the Andy Pettitte deal is that no team has less use for him than the New York Yankees, who signed their long-time lefthander to a one-year, $2.5 million contract Friday in a move that shocked even the team's closest observers. Pettite had been retired since the end of the 2010 season.
After a pair of January moves brought Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to New York, the Yankees had seven starting pitchers for five spots. Even jettisoning A.J. Burnett still left the Yankees with Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, and Hughes has looked very much like the pitcher who won 18 games for the Yankees in 2010. Garcia, in other words, is a $4 million insurance policy.
The Yankees are also stacked with pitching in the high minors. Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are high-ceiling prospects, while David Phelps could probably start for most major league teams now, and Adam Warren isn't far behind him. There's a decent chance that the Triple-A rotation in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre will be better than many major league outfits.
But as Brian Cashman told reporters Friday, "Andy Pettitte’s worth complicating things for.” And if Pettitte is anything resembling the pitcher who last took the mound for the Yankees, Cashman is right.
Remember, Pettitte didn't leave like Steve Carlton, washed up and unwanted. He was 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA in his last go-round with the Yankees, gave New York a pair of stellar starts in the 2010 playoffs, and was the team's first choice to return and claim a rotation spot in 2011. Only after he chose to retire did the Yankees reluctantly throw together a rotation back-end from spare parts like Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
Pettitte will be 40 in June, so the risk is greater than they would be with a young player that his skills have eroded during his time away. But even if Pettitte is less than the pitcher he was as recently as 2010, he has the capacity to regress and still provide positive value to a rotation. Even in one as stacked as New York's.
The Yankees say he needs a full spring training. Taking that at face value, with New York a month into spring camp and Opening Day roughly two weeks away, that would place his debut around May 1. It would make sense to place Pettitte in the fifth slot at first, giving the team the option of skipping him from time to time to keep him fresher.
The money is absurdly low. New York was ready to pay him the $10-12 million he had been receiving annually the last few years of his career. But once Pettitte couldn't commit, the Yankees went out and spent that money on Kuroda. Pettitte, however, desperate to return, took that into account and was willing to accept far less than he'd have earned as a free agent.
So the Yankees luck out, and sign arguably the best free-agent pitcher on the market this winter for no long-term commitment at roughly one-sixth the money Ryan Dempster will make next season.
When a move works out like this, it doesn't exactly discourage people who want to believe God is a Yankees fan.