Andy Pettitte had a great career. He might end up in the Hall of Fame. But he would have been merely a convenient solution for the New York Yankees this year, not necessarily a good one.
His résumé is impressive. His statistics from last season are not.
Oh, I know he had a 3.28 ERA, followed by two quality starts in the playoffs. But here’s the alarming part: Pettitte threw only 129 innings before the postseason. His regular-season workload declined for the third straight year. And it would have been difficult for him to reverse that trend during a season in which he turns 39 in June.
The Yankees need a true No. 3 starter, someone who would push the unreliable A.J. Burnett into the back half of the rotation. For a team with world championship aspirations, the No. 3 starter should be a 180-inning guy. Pettitte was that type of pitcher for a very long time. But not last year.
We will learn more at Pettitte’s retirement news conference Friday, but it didn’t appear he was preparing like someone who wanted to be ready at the start of the season. And that’s what the Yankees need. April, not August, is the concern.
By the middle of the year, a prospect like Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos or Andrew Brackman might be ready for the rotation . . . or general manager Brian Cashman could make a trade . . . or Hal Steinbrenner could, uh, request that Cashman make a trade. You get the point: Five months from now, the Yankees will have a number of options. Pettitte’s value was linked to his ability to be ready for Opening Day. And I doubt that was ever a viable possibility.
So, get ready for a steady supply of Fausto Carmona trade rumors. They’re coming, along with the rest of a microwavable speculation menu in the wake of Pettitte’s decision to retire after 240 wins and a record 19 more in the postseason.
Carmona would be a coup for the pitching-needy New Yorkers. He is relatively young. He is coming off a 200-inning, sub-4.00 ERA season. He has had success in the American League. He is currently employed by a Cleveland team that (a) is not expected to contend and (b) plays in another division.
If the Yankees’ farm system is truly as good as they (and others) believe, then they have the prospects to get a deal done. Don’t believe the Indians would trade Carmona? Well, I do. They loooove prospects. This is the same team that dealt Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez before their walk years.
And then there is this: Carmona, 27, is what the Yankees need, in a way that Pettitte, 38, was not.
To repeat: The Yankees need a No. 3 starter — not named A.J. Burnett — who can give them at least 180 innings and a better-than-league-average ERA.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, over the past decade the Yankees have benefited from six such seasons from pitchers 39 or older: Mike Mussina in ’08; David Wells in ’02 and ’03; Roger Clemens in ’02 and ’03; Randy Johnson in ’05.
Based on that history, the Yankees could have reasonably asked Pettitte to be that effective. But here’s the issue: Mussina, Wells, Clemens and Johnson averaged almost exactly 180 innings in the preceding seasons.
Pettitte, of course, threw 50 fewer.
What evidence did the Yankees possess that suggested Pettitte’s workload would go in the opposite direction at his advanced baseball age?
Look at the left-handed starters who had success around age 40 in recent years. Kenny Rogers logged no fewer than 195 innings from ages 37 through 41. Jamie Moyer reliably hit the 200-inning mark from 38 through 43. At comparable ages, they never tried to come back from a season like the one Pettitte had last year.
Wells did. He more than doubled his innings between ages 38 and 39, when he went from the Chicago White Sox to the Yankees in 2002. An optimistic Yankees fan could have pointed to those numbers and said, "See? Pettitte could be the next Boomer Wells."
I would counter with the following: There is only one Boomer Wells.
To make an obvious but necessary point: New York would not be fretting like this if Cliff Lee had signed with the Yankees. But he didn’t, for reasons that are not the fault of the Steinbrenners or Cashman. The Yankees offered the most money. He signed somewhere else. Exactly what else where they supposed to do?
Planet Yankee has been wobbling in space ever since the December night when Lee decided to sign with Philadelphia. And if you’ve been paying close attention, you realize how little responsibility Cashman should bear for that.
Can you really blame him for not acquiring Zack Greinke, Carl Pavano or Matt Garza? Greinke, who has a history of social anxiety disorder, would have been a poor fit in New York. Pavano bombed spectacularly in four years as a Yankee. Garza would have come at a premium cost, because the team trading him (Tampa Bay) preferred not to deal within the division.
Pettitte, for all his history in pinstripes, represented one more imperfect solution. Cashman had to wait on him, anyway. Now the ambiguity is gone. It’s time for the GM to find someone who will be ready to pitch when the bell rings.