Two weeks ago, I had fun with a little What If? scenario involving Randy Johnson in 1998. This time, at the suggestion of Hollaforskolla, I’m jumping ahead a year to the 1999 trade deadline when Andy Pettitte was nearly traded.
It is the morning of July 30, 1999, and the Yankees are right where they should be. At 61-39, the defending World Series champions are in first place with a 6.5 game lead over the Red Sox. But all is not well in Yankeeland.
Andy Pettitte, 27 and not too far away from free agency, is struggling. Two days before, Pettitte couldn’t get out of the 4th inning against a pathetic White Sox team, and the lefty finds himself 7-8 with a 5.65 ERA. The Yanks are on the hook in 1999 for $5.95 million and are facing another year of arbitration before free agency. While to us in 2008, that seems like small beans, to George Steinbrenner in 1999, Pettitte is not coming through and the Boss has made it known that Andy Pettitte is on the trading block.
The next four days bring a whirlwind of rumors and near-trades. The stories provide us with a glimpse into what could have been a very costly move. On July 30, Buster Olney, then the Yankee beat writer for The Times writes that Steinbrenner “did not order that Pettitte be traded, but the actions of his subordinates in the hours after the staff meeting in Tampa, Fla., suggested that they were working hard to formulate an acceptable deal before the deadline Saturday night.”
That day, the Yankees are rumored to be in discussions with the Phillies. A potential deal with net the Philadelphia Phillies Andy Pettitte, and the Yanks would get Adam Eaton, Anthony Shumaker and Reggie Taylor. At the time, those were three highly touted prospects. It’s funny how things work out.
Also on the table is a deal with the Giants for Shawn Estes. Olney, proving that old habits never ever die, does indeed call Estes “a better fit” for the Yankees because he’s due just $2.15 million in 2000. Imagine Andy Pettitte’s almost getting traded because of a $4 million difference.
As the clock ticks down to midnight on July 31, 1999, Pettitte’s future in pinstripes looks dim. As Olney notes, on the same day they reacquired Jim Leyrtiz, the Yanks had a deal in place with the Philadelphia Phillies. This deal however is contingent upon another deal: If the Yanks can land Arthur Rhodes or Roberto Hernandez, Pettitte is gone.
There are a few hitches. To get Rhodes, the Yanks would have to send D’Angelo Jimenez and Luis De Los Santos to the Orioles. At the time, Jimenez was a highly-regarded prospect. A terrible motorcycle accident would change his career a few years later. To give up Hernandez, the Devil Rays wanted one of two young kids: Alfonso Soriano or Nick Johnson.
Well, as we know, nothing happened, and the fallout exposed some divisions in the Yankee organization. George Steinbrenner, for one, was less than enthusiastic that Joe Torre intervened to keep Andy Pettitte. ‘Our manager seems to think things are all right,” Steinbrenner said. ”I have great confidence in my manager.”
Pettitte wasn’t too enthused by that statement, according to Olney. ”You want your owner to want you around,” he said.
The next day, George backtracked a little. ‘The manager is happy,” he said. ”That’s good by me.”
But when all was said and done, Andy Pettitte came oh so close to getting traded on that fateful night in July. But he wasn’t traded, and he responded in kind. Through August and September, Pettitte would go 7-3 with a 3.46 ERA, and he threw two stellar starts in the ALDS and ALCS before getting bounced early in game 3 of the World Series. The Yanks would eventually win that game on a home run by Chad Curtis in the 10th.
We know what happened after 1999 with Andy Pettitte. He had some stellar seasons in the Bronx, and except for a terrible start in the 2001 World Series, he pitched his heart out in the postseason. His game 6 start in the 2003 World Series against the Marlins was brilliant even though he was overshadowed by Josh Beckett.
This is one trade that the Yanks are glad they never made. Andy Pettitte has been far superior than Adam Eaton, and the money stopped being an issue for the Yanks shortly after they won again in 1999 and 2000. But eight years ago, without hourly-updated blogs and the constant surveillance of the Internet, not too many people knew that Andy Pettitte came to within a hair’s breadth of being traded. In the end, Pettitte and the Yanks were, to borrow a phrase, a good fit.