03 December 2007

Pettitte Returns to Yankees in 2008...but What About the Rest of the Rotation?

Andy Pettitte's agent, Randy Kendricks, has announced that Pettitte will pitch for the Yankees in 2008, rather than retiring. Yankees' GM Brian Cashman had previously said, when Pettitte declined his $16 million option for next year, that Andy had a standing offer for that amount, whenever he wanted to pick it up. pettitte had said that he would either pitch for the Yankees or retire, but had offerred few hints as to which direction he was leaning, if any.

Kendrick's announcement comes on the first day of the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, and as such, is probably no accident. Cashman and the Steinbrothers are trying to acquire themselves a bonafide ace in Johan Santana, the first they will have had since Roger Clemens won the Cy Young Award in 2001. (Pettitte himself won 21 in Pinstripes in 2004, but finished a distant 6th in the CYA voting, and had an ERA over 4.00 for the year.)

But the Yankees have said that they want the bidding to end, and with Pettitte on board, feel confident enough to draw a line in the sand, setting a deadline of today for any deal. They could still go after Oakland's Dan Haren if no deal for Santana is reached. they'd have to give up a similar package of prospects, but would not have to shell out a $150 million contract for him, and would not have to worry about him vetoing a trade. Santana, for his part, has said that he would veto any trade that happens during the 2008 season, which further increases the pressure on Minnesota to act now.

It's possible that the Yankees increased their offer to Pettitte in an effort to get him to commit, though Pettitte, a family man and attested devout Christian, wouldn't likely respond to such blatantly mercenary tactics. Well, maybe for an extra three million.

Pettitte, a slightly better than LAIM pitcher, is there to shore up the rotation, but is decidedly not an "ace". The rest of the rotation consists of Mike Mussina, a once great pitcher who's going to be 39 years old before the week is out and who likely doesn't have much left in the tank, Chien-Ming Wang, whose inability to strike anyone out makes him a risk to implode at any minute, and some combination of youngsters like Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy and/or Kei Igawa.

In some ways, this could actually help the negotiations with the Twins over Santana, as it takes a little of the pressure off New York to acquire the ace that everyone thinks they need so badly. Even without the trade, they've got Pettitte and Wang both slated to log 200+ innings (we hope) of average to above-average work in 2008, plus some combination of Hughes, Kennedy, Igawa, Moose, and Joba to fill in the other three slots. That's about 700 innings they need to get out of six pitchers, some of whom might be pretty good.

They could (and I think should, though almost certainly won't) turn Mike Mussina into a "Sunday Starter" like the White Sox did with Ted Lyons back in the 1930's. Mussina did much better late in the 2007 season with longer rest, and having an extra couple of days off in between starts might do him some good going forward, making him more effective when he does pitch and extending his career by a year or two. The extra rest might help him go seven innings or more when he does pitch, and most of the young guys in the rotation should be flexible enough to work around him. This of course, will never happen, for two main reasons:

1) It's different. Baseball people detest "different".
B) The Yankee Public would never swallow it. "Dat S.O.B. makes eleven million dollahs and he only pitches once a week!? #&%$@* BUM!!"

In any case, Pettitte's assured presence on the team next year means that Cashman and Co. don't have to sell the farm to buy one workhorse, even if he is the best bred horse this side of Sandy Koufax. I still think that they should give up Austin "Action" Jackson, Melky Cabrera and either Hughes or Kennedy to get him, but if not, they can certainly survive next year without him. It should be noted, though, that the yankees have supposedly told Minnesota that Jackson is off-limits as the third player in the deal, which means that the Twins will have to pick someone like Jeff Marquez, Kevin Wheelan, or Tyler Clippard. Maybe, since the Twins value speed so much and don't seem terribly interested in power, the Yankees can convince them that Brett Gardner would make a good third piece of the puzzle? Probably not.

The real problem is that the likely alternative would be for Boston to get him, in which case the Yankees are in trouble. Boston added their prized CF prospect Jacoby Ellsbury to the trade mix, but then took Jon Lester off the trading block, so things are still at a stalemate. Ellsbury made a splash by hitting .353 in his major league debut, impressive even if it was only 33 games. But Ellsbury's a year older than Melky Cabrera, and has even less power. Their minor league composites are pretty similar.

           AVG   OBP   SLG
Melky .294 .344 .422
Ellsbury .314 .390 .426

Melky started younger, and has a little (very little) more power. He homered once every 53 at-bats in the minors, compared to Ellsbury, who went yard about once every 102 at-bats. But Ellsbury walks more and has a lot more speed, which makes him the better prospect, despite his age and relative lack of experience. If Boston puts Lester back on the table, I doubt the Yankees will have a chance.

In any case, it will be nice to have Pettitte back. I've always liked him, and it would be a shame to see him go.

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