12/31/2010 11:13 AM ET
Yankees have to pay Pettitte
Veteran lefty is setting himself up for bigger pay day
By Sam Borden / SNY.tv
Just how desperate are the Yankees to bring Andy Pettitte back? Just look at the current alternative. (AP)

Earlier this winter it was all about Derek Jeter getting his money from the Yankees. Jeter, the legend and icon, was made out to be some kind of infidel for trying his best to get paid by the only team he's ever played for, and the Yankees were hailed as nothing short of Nobel Prize economists for working over their Captain and saving a few million on a deal that everyone knew was going to get done.

Back then, it was all about "overpaying." Jeter, for all he's done with the Yankees, sure isn't anything close to a $17 million a year player anymore and there wasn't much chance he was going to go sign up with anyone else. The Yankees overpaid for him anyway, even as they talked about holding a budget, when they gave him $51 million in a three-year deal. After all, it was Derek Jeter. The line, or so it went, was that the Yankees overpaid him because "they had to." What else were they going to do? Not sign him?

Now, as the calendar turns to 2011 and Spring Training is starting to come into view, the story is about to be the Yankees overpaying again. You think they threw money at Derek Jeter? Wait until you see how the annual Andy Pettitte miniseries ends.

Pettitte, the old lefty with the arm built for October, is supposedly "leaning" towards retirement. That is the word we have now heard from everyone: Brian Cashman, Randy Levine, Mark Teixeira. Pettitte, now 38, is "leaning."

Right. Sure. Pettitte was leaning the past three years too and came back every time. Came back to another year in the Bronx, another year pitching with a great offense behind him, another year in the pinstripes. Nothing he did this past season, when all he did was go 11-3 and pitch two great games in the playoffs, says he's done. When it comes time to make a final decision, to stay home when it comes time to report to Tampa, it's hard to believe Pettitte won't be there again.

He better be. The biggest difference between this year and the past couple for Pettitte is that the Yankees have never needed him more than they do this time around. After the 2008 season, the Yankees took a hard line with Pettitte, offered him a contract that was about $6 million less than what he'd been making. Pettitte said no, held out for more, ended up taking a one-year deal worth even less that had a ton of incentives in it. The Yankees got him and got him at their price.

Not this time. This time, if there is another time, it will be at Pettitte's price. That is what happens in winters where Cliff Lee spends the holidays looking at houses in Philadelphia. That is what happens in winters where the Yankees projected rotation on New Year's Eve has someone named Ivan Nova as the fourth -- not fifth -- fourth starter.

Nothing worked out exactly as the Yankees wanted this winter. They hoped the Jeter talks would be smoother and would cost less. Didn't happen. Then they hoped Lee would take their big old bag of cash and give them a top two as good as any in the league. Didn't happen.

Now they need Pettitte. Need him badly. Need him to come in and give CC Sabathia someone reliable going-to-the-mound-behind big man. Phil Hughes -- as good as those 18 wins last year looked -- isn't anything close to a sure thing, A.J. Burnett is such a question mark, he might as well be wearing that old Riddler costume from the Batman series and after Burnett comes guys like Nova and Sergio Mitre.

Everyone knows how that looks. Say it out loud and you see why Pettitte is a must. Why the Yankees need him if they want to keep up with the Red Sox.

Two years ago, the Yankees negotiated hard with Pettitte, did what they could to make sure he wasn't overpaid. This time, they have no choice. If Pettitte wants Burnett money for this season, wants a raise up to $16 million again, the Yankees have to give in.

You think the Yankees overpaid for Jeter because they "had to?" With Pettitte, "had to" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Sam Borden is an award-winning columnist for LoHud.com and The Journal News and is a contributor to SNY.tv.
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