Waiting for Andy but with what expectations?

A familiar stare. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

While the Derek dealings are nearing a denouement, the Yankees still don’t know what the future will bring for Andy Pettitte. He hasn’t yet decided if he’s going to pitch in 2011, but the Texas Rangers set everyone into a tizzy when word leaked that they had contacted Pettitte’s people.

Today was a day full of denial for those involved. The Yankees reacted strongly to the news. Someone in the Yanks’ front office called it a “total [insert your favorite expletive here] joke.” Said the source, “Pettitte’s gonna pitch here or he’s gonna pitch nowhere,”

Later in the day, Jon Heyman chimed in as well. Relying on someone he called a “Pettitte pal,” Heyman reported that, if Pettitte returns in 2011, the “only way he doesnt go back to the Yankees is if they offer something insulting.” Clearly, the Yanks won’t offer anything insulting to Pettitte, but Pettitte has yet to say if he’ll return.

Meanwhile, Nolan Ryan himself put an end to the rumor. He said he spoke with Pettitte when the Yanks’ lefty called to wish his fellow Texan good luck in the World Series. “I asked him if he thought he was going to play in 2011 or retire,” Ryan said to The Star Telegram. “He said if he played it would be with the Yankees because he wanted to retire with the Yankees. It wasn’t like I was asking him if he wanted to come play for us.”

So now, we’re just waiting on Pettitte, and while we do, it’s worth examining what the Yanks could expect from the lefty who will be pitching his age 39 season in 2011. This past year was a frustrating one for Petitte. He was dealing before a groin injury sidelined him for two months, and by the end of the playoffs, he said his hamstring and back were barking at him. Still, his numbers were impressive. He maintained a 7.0 K/9 IP and kept his walk rate (2.9 BB/9 IP) in line with his career total. He went 11-3 and lowered his ERA to 3.28, his lowest AL mark since 2002.

Going forward, there’s no reason to expect a huge dip in performance. While Pettitte’s velocity isn’t what it was once, he, like Mike Mussina before him, has managed to make it work. He uses his breaking pitches and control more effectively, and he keeps the ball down in the zone. History too shows that lefties who are still in the game at Pettitte’s age have pitched effectively. They aren’t termed crafty southpaws for nothing.

Of the 30 seasons spun by left-handed pitchers who were at least 39 years old and made at least 20 starts, all but 10 have seen ERA+ figures top 100. Randy Johnson and Lefty Grove are the leaders, but Jamie Moyer pitched exceptionally well in Seattle at ages 39 and 40. David Wells did the same in New York in 2002. Have left arm, will travel.

Ultimately, for Pettitte, the biggest worry in 2011 will be his health. He broke down in 2010 after a long 2009 campaign, and he felt the strain of the season at the end of 2008 as well. Even though he keeps himself in very good shape, as he ages, his body isn’t as fast to heal as it once was, and he is more prone to minor strains. But if the Yanks can convince him to come back for another go of it, the team will be all the better for it.

Yanks met with Jeter and Casey Close on Tuesday

Via Ken Rosenthal, several Yankee bigwigs met with Derek Jeter and agent Casey Close in Tampa on Tuesday. It’s unclear who actually attended on behalf of the Yanks or if any contract proposals were exchanged, but either way this the first time we’ve heard about the two sides meeting since negotiations started earlier this month. Everything else has been public bickering and whatnot. I really hope the two sides can hammer out a deal soon, simply because it’s inevitable and I think we’re all sick of hearing about this stuff already.

Update by Ben (11:40 p.m.): Apparently, the talks went well tonight. Jon Heyman talks of “new optimism,” and Hank Steinbrenner says he is “confident that Derek will remain with the Yankees, and my brother does, as well.” Heyman’s sources also suggested that the Yanks may go up to $51 million over three years with an option. Once the Giants signed Miguel Tejada and Jeter’s side realized the open market wouldn’t have much to offer, I guess that three-year, $45-million initial proposal from the Yanks suddenly seemed alluring. Still, the Bombers are going to outbid themselves for Jeter if they truly are raising their offer.

Open Thread: Brian Cashman, ninja (or elf)

"Derek said he'll sign for 3/45 if you rappel down the side of the building." (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

When he’s not busy chasing Cliff Lee or staring down Casey Close, Brian Cashman is a community man. He’s going to spend this upcoming weekend dressed up as an elf and rappelling down the 22-story Landmark Building as part of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District’s annual Heights and Lights event. He’ll be accompanied by local weatherman Rick Reichmuth and, of course, Santa Claus. The trio will make a practice run on Friday, then do the real thing at 4:30pm this Sunday. I assume Cash will then jump on the Steinbrenner’s G6 and head to Orlando for the Winter Meetings.

If you’re in the area and are going to the Heights and Lights events, snap some pictures and email them to us so we can post them on the site. Thanks in advance. Otherwise, here’s your open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Nets are playing each other in the Garden tonight, which is all we’ve got for Tri-State Area sports. Talk about whatever the hell you want, just be cool about it.

Source: Greinke says he ‘likes New York’

Here’s one from Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan that’s just designed to send Yankee fans into a tizzy: A source close to Zack Greinke says the mercurial ace would consider pitching in New York. “I wouldn’t put it past him to go to New York,” Passan’s source said. “I don’t think he’d rule out anybody. He says he likes New York. Especially because they’re winners. He wants to go to a team that wins. He’s got a list, but in the process, a lot of people have lists.”

This development essentially flies in the face of everything we’ve heard about Greinke so far. The right-hander, who has struggled with social anxiety disorder and depression, has reportedly been adverse to joining the Yankees, and his no-trade clause requires him to consent to a deal to the Bronx. Still, Passan reports that the Yanks and Royals have discussed Greinke and that the no-trade clause ” isn’t the impediment it’s been made out to be.” If Cliff Lee slips through their fingers or Andy Pettitte retires, the Yanks could very well begin to explore packaging some young talent for Greinke.

The RAB Radio Show: November 30, 2010

We open the show with some talk about…the Rockies? They did make two moves yesterday that relate to the Yankees in some ways. First, they re-signed Jorge de la Rosa, whom I was firmly against from the get-go. Then they re-signed Troy Tulowitzki to a deal that runs through 2020. That certainly should remind us of Derek Jeter‘s deal.

In fact, as we discuss on the show, Jeter’s and Tulowitzki’s careers look somewhat similar at this point. Check out their WAR comparisons. It appears that Tulo just hasn’t hit Jeter’s peak yet. If he does in the next few years, it will make for an even more interesting comparison.

That then brings us to Eduardo Nunez, the nominative Plan B. We know Mike doesn’t think he’ll amount to anything. My question is, what do people see in him? He might be a decent stopgap — I’d rather him start in 2011 than Orlando freaking Cabrera — but the only thing I get from the Yankees saying he’s their Plan B is that they think that Plan A is fool-proof.

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Pitching options starting to come off the board

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The 2010-2011 offseason was always going to about Cliff Lee for the Yankees, and it still is. The two sides are expected to talk at some point over the next few days and then really kick things into gear during the Winter Meetings in Orlando next week. In the meantime, other free agent pitching options have been agreeing to, and finalizing contracts elsewhere, meaning that Plan B’s and C’s and D’s are coming off the board.

Aside from Lee, the case could be made that Jorge De La Rosa was the best free agent pitcher on the market, or that he at least had the potential to be. We know that the Yankees have kicked the tires on the 28-year-old southpaw, though he was never anything more than a backup plan to Lee. Now De La Rosa isn’t even that to New York; he agreed to a big fat three-year contract with the Rockies yesterday. Jon Garland and especially Javy Vazquez were far down on the pitching target list (I’m thinking Plan J and Y, respectively), but they’re no longer options as well. Garland took a one-year pact with the Dodgers, and Javy as you know landed in Florida. Jake Westbrook, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ted Lilly have all re-upped with their old clubs as well.

The trade market offers some alternatives, but giving up players/prospects and then taking on money is less preferable to the Yanks than simply using their greatest asset, their checkbook. Why (hypothetically) give up prospects for Zack Greinke and then have to pay him eight-figures a year when you can just sign Lee? What about Chris Carpenter or Fausto Carmona or Ricky Nolasco? Same deal, the cost is two-fold and he return won’t be as great.

Those six now-signed free agents above didn’t represent much to the Yankees directly (like I said, they were backup plans), but they’re going to feel the impact of their signings regardless. The free agent pitching market is getting thinner by the day, which not only means that the number of viable alternatives to Lee is dwindling, but also that the southpaw’s leverage and the urgency to sign him are on the way up. Obviously Lee was always going to be in his own little negotiating world as an elite player and he would have gotten nine-figures regardless of what else happened on the market, that’s not going to change.

What can change is how aggressive teams become in pursuing him, especially the Rangers. They have the money to throw around and are slowly running out of places to spend it. They could always stick Neftali Feliz back in the rotation, sign a closer, and hope for the best, but that sounds like a last resort based on the latest reports trickling out of Texas. If the Yankees are unable to sign Lee, what’s left for them, Carl Pavano or Kevin Millwood?

This is nothing more than idle musings, of course, but there’s always a chance something like this plays out. The more pitchers that come off the board before Lee signs, the worse it is for the teams that plan to seriously chase him.

Plan B: Eduardo Nunez

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees have identified their Plan B at shortstop in the unlikely event that Derek Jeter signs elsewhere or retires: Eduardo Nunez. They would rather give the 23-year-old the opportunity to win the job in Spring Training than pursue a veteran free agent (Olney mentions out-machine Orlando Cabrera, yuck). The Yanks sure do seem to have a lot of faith in Nunez, who’s drawn 50 unintentional walks with a .102 ISO in 1,034 plate appearances at Double- and Triple-A over the last two seasons. Let’s not forget that he was seemingly unable to throw a ball to first base without making it an adventure in his late season cameo this year.

If they want to go in-house, fine. Just start Ramiro Pena then, at least he’ll be brilliant defensively.