TAMPA -- Retired Yankees pitching icon Andy Pettitte told the team he wanted to come back to pitch, so it was an easy choice for the Yankees to bring him back. In a deal that seemingly came out of nowhere, Pettitte signed a $2.5-million, one-year minor-league contract with the hope and even expectation he'll be able to pitch in the Yankees' rotation by some point early this season.
"It's Andy Pettitte,'' one club official said. "How do you say no?''
But this is no lark. Even though he declined a December offer to return by the Yankees, Pettitte apparently has been thinking about a comeback for some time now, and no one here doubts he can pull it off. If anyone can make it back after a year away, he can.
"Bottom line, if he's healthy, he's going to help us. A healthy Andy Pettitte is an extremely effective player,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "This man knows how to pitch ... We have a lot of pitchers here. But there are very few Andy Pettittes.''
There's little doubt the Yankees envision Pettitte back in their rotation. There was a lot of talk today about how well he pitches in October, so there's a lot of optimism around Yankees camp today. As another Yankees person said about Pettitte, "If he didn't think he could do it, he wouldn't do it.''
The Yankees tried to get Pettitte to come back at different times over the past year, talking with him sporadically about the possibility. They checked with him before they signed Hiroki Kuroda in mid-December. But at that point Pettitte said no. Cashman said there have been lots of "twists and turns'' to the talks, but it appears the deal wasn't finalized now.
A comeback still didn't appear to be in Pettitte's plans when he reported to camp as a spring instructor for a few days. But things seemed to turn soon after he threw batting practice to the team in Orlando a few days ago. "The blood got pumping,'' Cashman recalled of Pettitte's change of heart. Pettitte called Cashman into manager Joe Girardi's office soon after that BP session and told them, "I've been throwing. I want to play.''
Pettitte threw a private, secret batting practice for Cashman, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild a few days ago. Their "private, honest dialogue'' (Cashman's words) intensified. Originally, the Yankees told Pettitte they didn't have money in the budget, but Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner soon found a little bit. Steinbrenner remarked to Cashman, "You can never have enough pitching, right? My dad always used to say that.''
This obviously isn't about the money, though, because Pettitte was used to making eight-figure salaries and certainly could have made one had he pitched last year. Cashman conceded that a healthy Pettitte is worth much more than $2.5 million.
Pettitte had plenty left when he last pitched in 2010, going 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA. The belief is, he will enhance a rotation that looked deep at the start of camp but maybe not quite as deep today. Petttitte is lefthanded, he's clutch and he's still in his 30s, at least until June 15, when he turns 40.
Pettitte isn't expected to be ready to make the rotation to start the year, as the season is less than three weeks away. Cashman suggested he may need a spring training, which would put his return to a big-league game close to May 1. But regardless of the return date, it's hard to imagine he'd try to come back after a year away if he didn't believe he could make it back to the majors and succeed. Given ample chances over the past several months, he never said flat-out that he wouldn't ever try to come back.
It seems like he just left. Pettitte retired after the 2010 season, saying he definitely would take 2011 off but leaving the door open to future comeback attempts. Well, it's time for that attempt. Pettitte's surprise signing was first reported by Jack Curry of YES Network.
The Yankees wouldn't have seemed desperate for starting pitchers to start spring, but there are a few significant issues in camp. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia are battling for a spot in the rotation, while newcomer Michael Pineda has been surprisingly unimpressive thus far in camp. Pineda has been throwing around 88-92 mph compared to the 94-96 mph he was throwing last year early in camp. So while this is about Pettitte, it's about the Yankees, too.