With the Cliff Lee issue long since decided and Matt Garza going to the Cubs, it's starting to be crunch time for the Yankees rotation. Pitchers and catchers report next month and the Yankees have made no significant moves in the off-season.
As it stands now the Yankees starting rotation consists of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Sergio Mitre. Obviously Sabathia is solid and consistent, racking up 40 wins, almost 400 strikeouts, and an ERA of 3.275 in two years with the Yankees. After that though the possible results of the Yankees rotation is more distressing than Mel Gibson at a Jewish synagogue on Yom Kippur.
AJ Burnett is coming off a horrible 2010 in which he went 10-15 with an ERA over 5 and didn't even reach 200 innings pitched. It remains to be seen if 2010 was a fluke season or the beginning of the end for the thirty-four year old right-hander. While Phil Hughes continues to develop with each passing year and seems to have settled into a starting role, questions remain about his durability down the stretch and he needs to do better than a 4.19 ERA. Ivan Nova had a strong season for Scranton Wilkes Barre last year going 12-3 with a stellar 2.86 ERA and only 48 walks. However, as of this moment he's a young unproven commodity with only 3 starts to his name. Then there is Sergio Mitre who I have zero confidence in. Not only does he seem to have a sub-par fastball but he's 3-6 so far with the Yankees and given up a whopping 17 HR in just over 105 innings pitched.
No one seems to want to talk about the elephant in the room either, namely the Yankees's lack of left handed starting pitching. While the pitchers the Yankees may bring up during the course of the season including Hector Noesi, Andrew Brackman, David Phelps, Adam Warren, DJ Mitchell, and Dellin Betances are all fine pitchers, most are quite young and NONE of them are left handers. That means at this point the Yankees have exactly one starting left handed pitcher in Sabathia.
Given all of this information how important is it to sign Pettitte? In a word: very. You cannot go into a season where you have only one lefty in your starting rotation and no lefty prospect to bring up during the regular season. Pettitte is coming off his best season in recent years despite an injury shortened season. He posted an ERA under four for the first time since 2004 and had a WHIP of 1.271 with only 41 walks. Pettitte's record after a loss is impeccable and for the most part he is very durable. His pick off move is the best in baseball and is good for 5 to 10 outs a year as well. While it is unlikely that he will be able to put up 200 plus innings this year, you can't ignore his success in the postseason, and let's face it the postseason is where it counts most with the Yankees. He holds the record for most starts and innings pitched with a 19-10 record and a 3.83 ERA. Andy Pettitte also won three game clinching victories in 2009 and as a member of five World Series teams it is patently obvious he knows how to win. Even though leadership is an intangible you also can't ignore how much his presence, experience, and knowledge will bring to young pitchers either. That very well could be a stabilizing force if the Yankees trend toward younger pitchers in 2011.
While the Yankees have paid Pettitte around ten million dollars a year over the last four years, they may have to up their offer to fifteen or sixteen million. Giving Andy's track record and New York's desperate need of another proven left-hander, I'd say it would be a worthy investment. (It's not like the Yankees don't have cash to spend after the Cliff Lee deal fell through in any case. So what if they overpay him a little?) Bottom line though is this is up to Andy. At this point he's leaning towards retirement. With his home, wife, and children in Texas, five World Series rings, and two twenty win seasons under his belt, I don't think he has much more to gain by coming back. He might want a shot at becoming the Yankees all-time leader in wins but he needs twenty-four to overtake Whitey Ford. I'm not sure if that goal even motivates him. If Pettitte does come back it will be because he still loves the competition and wants to be with him teammates.
One thing's for certain though, the Yankees desperately need a left handed pitcher. At this point Pettitte has to be there best option. And barring that...well there aren't a lot of options are there unless a trade materializes, which is always possible. The Yankees know how much they need Pettitte. It remains to be seen whether Pettitte still needs the Yankees.