In the surprise move of the spring to date, Andy Pettitte is returning to the Yankees for another season. As Jack Curry of YES first reported, Pettitte has signed a minor-league contract with the Yankees that could potentially pay $2.5 million this season. Although Pettitte likely won’t be ready to start the season with the Yankees — he’ll need extended spring training or a minor league stint to get his arm strength built up — he should add another quality arm in Joe Girardi‘s starting rotation.
Pitchers — or any player — who take seasons off can be tough to project. Was Pettitte staying in shape? Will his arm respond as well to the spring training program as it did in past years? Combine these questions with Pettitte’s age — he turns 40 in June — and it’s fair to have concerns about Pettitte’s ability to come in and bolster the Yankees’ rotation.
But the Yankees lose very little if Pettitte is unable to get his arm back in shape, and if he can get healthy and stay healthy, it’s difficult to imagine him having a bad season, simply because he has never really had one before. Maybe the closest one was 2008, when the lefty posted a 4.54 ERA, his only worse-than-average mark of his career. But that year, he still managed a 2.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 3.71 FIP. In his 16 MLB seasons, not once did Pettitte post a FIP higher than the league average (as measured by FIP-).
And in reality, average is probably all the Yankees need to get from Pettitte. An average Pettitte would allow the Yankees to push Phil Hughes to the bullpen (where he has excelled, albeit in a small sample) and Freddy Garcia (already dealing with a hand injury) to a long relief role. The depth in the rotation would be fantastic and should protect against all but the most dire injury situations. Most importantly, Pettitte would make five probable above-average starters when grouped with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova.
It was easy to think Pettitte had something left when he retired on the heels of a 3.28 ERA in 2010. Now he’ll get to prove it.