Lusting for Clemens, Pettitte brings back old Yankee memories

Dreams of 2000 are dancing in the heads of Yankee fans.

Jon Heyman, sports columnist for Newsday, is the one to blame for these pipe dreams. In Monday’s column, Heyman wrote that the Yankees are trying to convince Roger Clemens to join them for the 2006 campaign.

If Clemens opts for retirement or another season in Astros, the Yankees are lusting after Andy Pettitte, a pitcher they never should have lost in the first place. According to Heyman, the Yankees recognize that Pettitte’s contract, like nearly every Astros contract these days, is heavily backloaded. The Astros owe Pettitte $10.5 million in 2006 and $17.5 million in 2006. If Houston falls out of contention, the Yankees would be more than willing to assume the financial risk to get Pettitte back in pinstripes.

At least, those are the plans, according to Heyman. But why not both of them? Hey, these are the Yankees we’re talkin’ about. They’re rolling in dough. They had Clemens and Pettitte a few years ago. Why can’t they have Pettitte, Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Mike Mussina all pitching together? It would be the geriatric pitching convention. But age aside, how would the Yankees’ finances hold up with Clemens or Pettitte or both on board?

Currently, according to the excellent Hardball Dollars site, the Yankees owe players a guaranteed $183.77 million in 2006. That does not include the approximately $3 million Shawn Chacon will make or the league minimum doled out to Robinson Cano and Andy Phillips for their services this year. With those three included, the Yanks’ payroll will probably hit $187.5 million on Opening Day. Considering that the 2005 payroll was over $210 million, this is clearly a step in the right direction for the Bombers.

That is, unless they sign Clemens. Last year, Roger Clemens made $18 million, the most ever for a pitcher. And he earned every penny of it. He pitched to a 1.87 ERA and brought the Astros to their first World Series appearance. Despite his age, there’s little reason to believe that Clemens would regress too much. Were he to sign with the Yankees he would be pitching in the offensive-rich AL East instead of the fairly weak NL Central. He would have to face the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Devil Rays. And he would probably cost the Yankees upwards of $15-18 million, bringing payroll closer to 2005’s astronomical figure.

With Clemens, the Yankees would become even more favored to win the AL title. But they would be spending more money than they wish. General Manager Brian Cashman has expressed a desire to build a leaner Yankee team, but the Bombers are clearly willing to make an exception if it means landing Roger Clemens for one last tour of duty. And, heck, the Yankees already are paying Clemens nearly $1 million in deferred salary in 2006. What’s a few more million?

Now, what if Clemens decides to retire? What if he signs with Houston but falls apart midway through the season? The Yankee fans, according to Heyman, will be rooting for the Astros to struggle because Andy Pettitte awaits on the horizon.

But Pettitte doesn’t really fit into Brian Cashman’s masterplan either. For 2006, the Yankees could easily take on Pettitte’s $10 million. In fact, I still can’t get over the fact that they let him go in the first place following the 2003 season. So if they got him back this year, it wouldn’t break the bank. The Yankees routinely pick up bulky contracts at the trade deadline. Sometimes it pays off (David Justice); sometimes it does not.

The problem is for 2007. The Yankees would owe Pettitte $17.5 million ($10 million in salary and $7.5 million in deferred payments). This would mean that the Yanks would owe ten players $123 million. They would be 15 players short of a full roster and already just a few million behind the next highest salary. It would hardly be financially prudent for the Yanks to paying so many players in their mid- to late-30s a lot of money.

Additionally, the Yankees would have to ship away a highly regarded prospect to land Pettitte. Even if the Yankees were willing to assume the salary, Pettitte wouldn’t come cheap, and the Astros know that. As the Yankees are interested in rebuilding a depleted farm system, the acquisition of Pettitte could throw a wrench into those plans.

So as Spring Training approaches and reporters look for stories, I can believe that the Yankees are interested in acquiring Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, or both. But when October rolls around, I certainly won’t be surprised if neither of them are pitching in the Bronx. These are just dreams from a long-gone dynasty.

9 Responses to “Lusting for Clemens, Pettitte brings back old Yankee memories”

  1. 1 Marsha February 7, 2006 at 10:33 am

    NO, NO, NO. The Yanks do not need Clemens. Now Andy Pettitte is another story but his pricetag sure is high. Biggest mistake was letting him get away in the first place.

  2. 2 Wayne's world February 7, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Marsha has certainly proven that she knows how to spell “no.” Anyway, I think if the Astros dealt Pettitte, they could kiss goodbye to Clemens. I also don’t think that Cashman could be lured into doing something stupid like giving up a great pitching prospect for Pettitte even if they have one. And George never loved him anyway. The problem with Pettitte is that he could have another great season; but in any given start, he could also blow out his elbow and end his season. Too risky at this stage of his career.

  3. 3 Steve February 7, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Here’s the big problem. If the Yankees want to trade for a big name player, Cano or Wang seemingly would have to be involved. Cashman’s made it pretty clear this offseason that he’s not willing to part with Cano, and probably Wang, for that matter.

    The only way I see either of those two players being moved is if the Yankees are really struggling by the trading deadline.

  4. 4 J February 7, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Clemens was extremely impressive this past season, but as Ben said it was in the NL Central… not the AL-East… Can he really last much longer at his age and the amount of money necessary to bring him over would be crazy…

    He should give it one more go around with the Astro’s and then hang it up…

  5. 5 Lee "Baby" Sims February 7, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    They Yanks did not let Pettitte go. He signed for less money than the Yanks offered to be closer to home. Pettitte later recanted his statements about the Yanks not wanting him or fielding a competitive offer. It was Andy’s choice to leave.

  6. 6 Benjamin Kabak February 7, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    I don’t recall Pettitte recanting those statements. Do you remember, Lee, where you saw that? The latest I remember on that front was that Pettitte left because he wasn’t impressed with the Yankee effots to re-sign him and he was willing to field the Astros’ offer because it was closer to home.

  7. 7 Lee "Baby" Sims February 8, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    It was during this season, if I remember correctly. I will try to dig up some proof.

  8. 8 Lee "Baby" Sims February 8, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Here’s an aside from Steve Goldman on the Yanks having offered more money, 2nd pp:

    That’s all I have for now.

  9. 9 Lee "Baby" Sims February 9, 2006 at 2:27 am

    Sorry about the length of the piece but here goes from Buster Olney in 2003:

    The Yankees did try to work out a deal with him over
    the last six weeks, but now Pettitte is gone, having
    agreed to a three-year deal with the Houston Astros.
    According to a baseball source, the Yankees offered
    Pettitte a three-year, $30 million deal shortly after
    the World Series, telling Pettitte this was just an
    opener, and that the team was ready to offer more.
    Pettitte’s agents countered with a three-year concept:
    $51 million, with enough deferred money to take down
    the real average annual value to $15 million. The
    agents then informed the Yankees that Pettitte wanted
    to try free agency, and with that, Yankees’ executives
    decided to back off in good faith to honor Pettitte’s
    A Yankees’ official says the team did check in
    repeatedly with Pettitte’s representatives, nudging
    them to move things along — and when they did not get
    a response, they made the trade for Javier Vazquez,
    out of a growing concern that Pettitte ultimately
    would sign with Houston, to be closer to home.
    Finally, as Pettitte neared a deal with the Astros on
    Wednesday, the Yankees offered a three-year, $39
    million contract, about $7.5 million more than the
    Houston deal. The agents countered with a four-year,
    $52 million request, and told the Yankees that even if
    they agreed to those terms, Pettitte might still sign
    with the Astros; Pettitte was getting pressure from
    within his family to stay at home.

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