The Yankees made re-signing Andy Pettitte a priority this offseason for three reasons. They wanted to cobble their rotation together as soon as possible, his customary one-year deal kept them from adding to their 2014 payroll and he was very productive this past season.
Brian Cashman has quickly set the top end of his rotation with Hiroki Kuroda and Pettitte both re-signing to throw behind ace CC Sabathia. When you take Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps into account, the Yankees have six candidates for five spots. Hughes, Nova and Phelps will likely serve as a three-man stable for the fourth and fifth turns in the rotation.
Pettitte will turn 41 in June, but in 12 starts he went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 2012. He pitched under a $2.5 million deal after coming out of retirement in March, but lost three months because of a fractured fibula. If you prorate his numbers out over a full season, Pettitte would have gone 14-11 with 190 strikeouts in close to 200 innings. He averaged 3.3 strikeouts per walk and posted his lowest WHIP (1.14) since his 2005 campaign with the Astros.
He will earn $12 million in 2013, a bump of nearly $10 million after a small sample size. Pettitte could receive an additional $2.5 million in bonuses for individual achievements such as winning the Cy Young, LCS MVP and/or World Series MVP. New York would be thrilled to pay Pettitte for such performances, but in the meanwhile they will overpay him to likely be an average starter.
Pettitte hasn’t started more than 21 games in a season since 2009, when the Yankees last won the World Series. He’ll have to approach 30 starts and pitch well in order to produce at a level equal to his salary. Cashman was willing to dish out an eight-figure contract to a 40-year-old starter because Pettitte has shown he can be productive, if only in small spurts, and because the expenditure won’t hamper the team’s ability to “pinch pennies” in 2014.
Cashman may have filled the No. 2 and No. 3 slots behind Sabathia with proven veterans, but their one-year deals make it vital that he address the long-term future of the rotation sooner rather than later. If the Yankees wait until next offseason to replace Kuroda and Pettitte, who are pitching on a year-to-year basis, they’ll put themselves in poor negotiating position and restrict their ability to keep their 2014 payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Grade for Yankees: B-
If this weren’t the Yankees and Andy Pettitte, the grade for his deal would be closer to average. Cashman’s ability to re-sign Pettitte quickly and without any 2014 commitment boosts the rating. He wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere near as much money from another team as he benefited from his relationship with the front office and status as a member of the aging Core Four in the Bronx.
The main issue is that it seems unlikely Pettitte will be able to sustain his 2012 level of play over the course of a full season as he approaches 41. Even if he is able to pitch to an ERA in the neighborhood of 3.00, his age and recent injury history suggest that he won’t be able to make the 30 starts that the Yankees need from him.
The baseline I’ve set for what the Yankees need from Pettitte to "earn" his contract is as follows:
-- 28 starts, a sub-3.50 ERA, a 2.25 K/BB ratio and 7.5 K/9.
If they get that much from Pettitte, he’ll probably win 15 games and force the Yankees to find a replacement for his turn in the rotation just a handful of times. Anything below that line would make Pettitte overpaid, while anything above that line (whether it be in terms of starts or effectiveness) would only add to his Hall of Fame resume.
Grade for Pettitte: A-
There is absolutely only one negative for Pettitte, the amount of time he won't be able to spend with his family -- which he made a priority in 2011. Pettitte has always been a big-game pitcher and if he under-performs the blame will fall on Cashman because you can’t count on guaranteed production from a player of Pettitte’s age.
This has been the case before, but 2013 will truly be the final year of the Core “Four” in New York. Jorge Posada’s retirement left Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera to withhold the tradition this past season and it was a question as to whether the trio would return in pinstripes.
All three will enter the season with significant question marks -- Jeter (major ankle injury in ALCS), Rivera (major knee injury in May) and Pettitte (age, fragility) -- but Cashman has rarely swung and missed when counting on these three over the last two decades.