Open Thread: Andy Pettitte

(AP Photo/ John Bazemore)

Joe and I talked about it on the podcast earlier today, but I figured I’d bring it up here for discussion purposes. My signature Andy Pettitte moment, so to speak, is Game Five of the 1996 World Series. I was young, just a few days away from my 15th birthday at the time, and that game was one of the first that I can remember actually feeling. You know what I mean, that feeling of living and dying on every pitch, that stress that comes with not knowing what’s going to happen next and having no control over it. That feeling didn’t kick in until about the sixth or seventh inning, after the Yankees scored their lone run and we were able to starting counting down the outs on one hand. That was my first championship as a Yankee fan and I’m never ever ever going to forget it. Game Five was a huge part of it, all because of that guy right up there. I’m gonna miss the big lug.

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Anyways, here’s your open thread on this chilly, somber evening. The Devils are playing the Rangers in the Garden, which sums up the night in local sports. Talk about whatever you want, but I suspect Andy’s name will come up once or twice.

Link Dump: Andy Pettitte Edition

Walking away on your own terms is something few players get to do. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It’s Andy Pettitte day, so let’s round up some links…

The official statement

Chad Jennings posted the team’s official press release about Andy’s retirement. “According to the Elias Sports Bureau,” says the release, “Pettitte, a three-time All-Star (1996, 2001, ’10) and 2001 ALCS MVP, holds the distinction of being the only pitcher in Major League history to post a record of .500 or better while making at least 15 starts in each of the first 16 seasons of his career.”

The press conference is tomorrow morning at 10:30am ET and can be seen on YES,, and We’ll liveblog it one way or another.

Andy’s place in recent history

I don’t think any of us really considers Pettitte to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, but he’s certainly one of the best in recent history. Joe tackled that very topic at FanGraphs, finding that just a dozen pitchers can lay claim to a better career than Andy over the last 30 years. When it comes to recent Yankee history, no starting pitcher is even in the same ballpark.

The Hall of Fame?

Over at his new digs, Rob Neyer broke down Andy’s case for the Hall of Fame, which is borderline at best. I don’t think he should get in, but Rob states his case and shows that if nothing else, Pettitte will probably stick around on the ballot for a number of years. Maybe the Veteran’s Committee voted him in eventually, but sheesh, that’s two decades away.

The RAB Radio Show: February 3, 2011

It feels like just yesterday we were welcoming back Andy. (Kathy Willens/AP)

We said previously that when Andy Pettitte makes a decision that it will be Andy Pettitte Day on the podcast. Unfortunately, it’s not of the happy type. Mike and I reminisce about the carer of Andrew Eugene Pettitte.

In case you were wondering, this was Pettitte’s final act on a pitcher’s mound:

Podcast run time 34:11

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Pettitte to announce retirement tomorrow

(Kevork Djansezian/AP)

Update (2:17 p.m.): After months of playing the waiting game, Andy Pettitte is going to retire tomorrow, according to multiple reports. As first reported by Michael Kay and later confirmed by Jack Curry, the 38-year-old lefty is going to meet with team officials today to tell them that he will not be pitching in 2011. Joel Sherman reports that Pettitte’s heart is “just not into it,” and Curry says the club will hold a press conference tomorrow. The Yankees have since confirmed the news.

Realistically, for the Yankees, even as this news caps off a rough off-season, this development can’t be viewed as a huge surprise. Pettitte has hinted since the team’s season ended in October that he would likely not return for the 2011 campaign, and the Yanks have approached this winter under the assumption that Pettitte would not be a part of their plans. Had he chosen to pitch, he would have thrown only for the Yankees, and the club would have welcomed him back with an offer of at least $12 million. That point, however, is moot now as Andy will ride off into the sunset.

Nick Swisher, talking a few nights ago at the Thurman Munson Awards dinner, summed it up best. “I can’t say enough great things about that guy,” he said. “To play that long and continue to put those numbers up year in and year out. We’d love to have him back. But if he decided to ride off into the sunset, he’s definitely earned that.”

Pettitte, who made his Yankee debut on April 29, 1995, pitched for 16 years in the majors and 13 of those were with the Yanks. Overall, he went 240-138 with a 3.88 ERA. For the Yanks, he won 203 regular season games, 18 playoff games and five World Series rings. With a trademark stare that intimidated opposing batters, Pettitte emerged as one of the top lefties of the past decade and a half and had a reputation as a big-game pitcher. In fact, he won every clinching game for the Yanks during their 2009 World Series run.

At the outset of his Yankee career, Pettitte and the Yanks’ Front Office had a tenuous relationship. Throughout the late 1990s, his name came up in numerous trade conversations, but Brian Cashman and Joe Torre always argued to keep him. After the 2003 season, the Yanks saw Pettitte slip away and land in Houston. He suffered through an injury-plagued 2004 before rebounding to form in 2005 and 2006. He returned to New York in 2007 as the city celebrated his homecoming, and it was clear that he would never pitch anywhere else again.

I grew up with Andy Pettitte. I was 12 and he was 23 when he came up to pitch in the Majors. I saw him morph from a prospect to a team leader and a stalwart in the rotation. I’ll certainly miss his stare, his familiar leg kick, his pick-off move and the fact that he would pitch every five days and give it his all. We’re all growing up and getting older, and it just won’t be the same in the Bronx without him.

And so the Yankees will move ahead with a rag-tag bunch of rotation candidates. Kevin Millwood remains available, and the club will hope that Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon or Sergio Mitre or Ivan Nova can hold down the fort until a trade market develops.

As the Yanks stumble to Spring Training, though, this has been a tough, tough off-season indeed. I can’t begrudge Andy this decision at all, and I mourn it not for the Yanks but because we won’t watch Pettitte pitch again. Godspeed, Andy Pettitte. You’ve deserved it.

This adorable picture of Andy and his five-year-old son Luke was taken during a workout before this year’s Homerun Derby. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Yanks still looking at pitching options?

They couldn’t land Cliff Lee. Nor could they swing a trade for a front of the rotation starter. Now the Yankees are stuck throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping that a couple of strands stick. In the past few weeks they have added Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to a rotation competition that already included Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, David Phelps, and, perhaps, Hector Noesi and Andrew Brackman. There’s no Cliff Lee or Zack Greinke among them, but that’s not what the Yankees need. From those spots they just need a couple months of league average pitching, until they can start exploring the trade market for a true upgrade.

If the Yankees are going to take this approach, why not go all in? They’re already throwing spaghetti at the wall, so why not make it a heaping freaking bowl, full of noodles and sauce and every bit of seasoning they can find? We might not find any of the available names encouraging, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be useful for the Yankees’ purposes. In this way, it wasn’t surprising to see Jon Heyman mention that the Yankees are still in contact with Kevin Millwood. At this point in the off-season, with the Indians, Royals, and Orioles as his only other suitors, why wouldn’t the Yankees maintain communication? There’s no harm in bringing in another player on a minor league deal.

Heyman added a thought to his note about Millwood that pinpoints the Yankees’ biggest issue. Does maintained interest in Millwood mean they’re less optimistic about Andy Pettitte‘s prospects of playing in 2010 than they were last week? It’s certainly possible, but I’m not sure the two are necessarily related. We’ve heard varying reports regarding Pettitte’s probability of pitching, but we’ve yet to hear definitive word. Brian Cashman said last month that he’s proceeding as though Pettitte is retiring, so therefore it makes sense to continue discussing options with available pitchers. If they weren’t, they’d be acting under the assumption that Pettitte is returning.

What of Pettitte, anyway? The Yankees’ season has been over for more than three months, and he appears no closer to a decision now than he was on October 23. As it turns out, he didn’t necessarily plan to decide during the previous three months. ESPN Radio’s Ryan Ruocco recently spoke to Nolan Ryan, who has been in contact with Pettitte this winter. To quote: “Nolan also said that Andy had told him he wouldn’t decide until [February].” If he told Nolan Ryan this, he surely informed the Yankees. The difference, of course, is that Brian Cashman let that remain a private matter. In any case, with knowledge that Pettitte hadn’t intended to make a decision before now, and with spring training looming, I’m presuming we’ll hear more about this in the next week or so. That will certainly affect how the Yankees deal with the rest of the off-season.

If Pettitte does return, they need not make another move. They’ll have those seven pitchers competing for a single rotation spot, and surely they can find one serviceable starter from among that group. At that point I imagine they wouldn’t be in contact with the likes of Millwood and Jeremy Bonderman. But until they know for sure that Pettitte is returning, it is in their best interest to stay close to the remaining free agent pitchers. They might not inspire confidence, but they are simply more noodles in the bowl. The more noodles they have, the better chance they have one or two that will stick. No one particularly wants to see Kevin Millwood don the navy blue spring training uniform, but at this point there isn’t much downside to the prospect.

Requiem For An Offseason

As soon as the ink was dried on Freddy Garcia’s minor league contract, it effectively signaled the end of the Yankees’ offseason. Oh sure, there might be a Justin Maxwell mixed in between now and the start of Spring Training, but for the most part all the major business is finished. Garcia steps in as the front-runner for the fifth starter’s job, the bench has been solidified, and the bullpen has been upgraded considerably. Yet despite all of that, it’s hard to consider this offseason a success for the Yankees.

Yep. (AP Photo)

It was clear coming into the winter that starting pitching was priority number one, two, and three, and it was certainly no secret that the Yankees wanted Cliff Lee to solve their rotation woes. They made a valiant effort to sign him, but it was a major, major blow when Lee shocked the world by returning to Philadelphia. The alternatives on the free agent market were not appealing, and they were made even worse when Hiroki Kuroda and Jake Westbrook quickly re-signed with the Dodgers and Cardinals, respectively. Unless Brian Cashman & Co. were willing to part with top prospects for a band-aid or roll the dice with Zack Greinke, there was little help on the trade market. Their hands were tied but let’s be frank, it’s their own fault for being in a position where they were so desperate for Lee in the first place.

Once Lee was off the board, the Yankees finally sprung into action. They signed Russell Martin less than a week later, shoring up the defense behind the plate and giving Jesus Montero that much more time in Triple-A should he need it. There are very few complaints about spending $4M on a starting catcher on the right side of 30 and just two years removed from his last All-Star Game berth, but there are some complaints to be made about spending that much on a lefty specialist. That’s the annual salary the Yankees awarded Pedro Feliciano over the next two seasons in the middle of December.

Don’t get me wrong, Feliciano’s a fine reliever, a workhorse guy that could legitimately appear in 90 games if needed, but he’s still nothing more than a lefty specialist. With Damaso Marte – another lefty reliever slated to earn $4M in 2011 – expected to be on the shelf basically all season because of shoulder surgery, the Yankees felt the need to get a guy like Feliciano. The market for relievers went bonkers this year, so unfortunately two years and $8M guaranteed is the going rate for guys like Feliciano these days. If any team can afford it, it’s the Yankees.

That wasn’t the end of the bullpen spending though. Ownership jumped in after the calendar turned to 2011 and signed Rafael Soriano to serve as Mariano Rivera‘s primary setup man against Cashman’s recommendation. The damage: three years, $35M, and the team’s first round pick in a loaded draft class. Although Soriano is an obvious upgrade, the team assumed all the risk by giving the player the option of opting out of the deal after the first or second year, a contract so absurdly stupid that’s it’s still kind of hard to believe. For a total of $16M or so, Feliciano and Soriano represent maybe a two-win upgrade for the 2011 Yankees, and that’s if everything breaks right. More than likely it’ll be one win, maybe a win-and-a-half. Every little bit counts, but there are other the ways the team could have improved that much while using fewer resources.

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The rest of the moves were marginal upgrades at best. Andruw Jones is a damn fine fourth outfielder, and the various waiver claims (Maxwell and Brian Schlitter), Rule 5 Draft picks (Robert Fish and Daniel Turpen), and minor league signings (Luis Vizcaino, Warner Madrigal, Mark Prior, Andy Sisco, etc.) are fine for building depth. The Yankees still did nothing to upgrade their rotation however, still trying to rebound from Lee’s rejection.

Resigned to shopping off the clearance rack, the Yanks signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal in the middle of January even though it’s been five full years since he threw even 100 innings in a season or posted an xFIP below four-and-a-half. It’s a minor league deal though, no risk. A few weeks later they added Freddy Garcia, who at least made it to the mound for 150 innings last year and was above replacement level. That he is now the front-runner for the fifth starter’s job is an indictment of the offseason and current rotation.

Of course, the wild card in all of this is Andy Pettitte. He told the Yankees not to wait around for him at the outset of the offseason and he’s stuck to his word, having yet to formally announced his retirement or return as far as we know. Cashman says the team has been operating as if Andy won’t be coming back but I think we all know they’re holding out hope that he will. Either way, he’s still a 38-year old that battled elbow, groin, back, and hamstring issues last season. If you’re counting on him to save the rotation, something is very wrong.

If I had to grade the offseason right now, I’d probably give it a D. Maybe a C-, but just maybe. The Martin and Jones signings were sound, but the Soriano contract is absurd and I can’t get too exciting about Feliciano. He’s just a LOOGY. The Yankees haven’t addressed their rotation, basically at all, though I’m glad they didn’t do anything stupid and reactionary like trade Jesus Montero for Edwin Jackson or Carlos Zambrano, that would have been a disaster. Cashman gets credit for a patience, ownership not so much, but the bottom line is that the team as it stands is weaker than last year’s because of the starting staff.