Andy Pettitte tracked the Yankees’ moves this winter with a mix of excitement and confusion. Each new star made Pettitte more eager to return. Each splashy contract made him wonder why the Yankees insisted on cutting his salary.
The Yankees guaranteed a combined $423.5 million to C. C. Sabathia, A. J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira, but took a hard line in negotiations with him. They offered a one-year, $10 million contract—a $6 million reduction from last season, when Pettitte pitched through shoulder pain to lead the team in innings.
Pettitte accepted a lower guaranteed salary on Monday with a chance to make more if he stays healthy. The Yankees signed Pettitte to a one-year, $5.5 million contract that could pay him $12 million if he reaches incentives based on innings and roster time.
It is a much lower salary than last season, which makes Pettitte just like other disappointed free agents this winter. But it brings him back to the only place he wanted to play.
“The bottom line is, I’m a man, and I guess it does take a shot at your pride a little bit,” Pettitte said, referring to the pay cut. “But when you put all that aside, I wanted to play for the New York Yankees. I wanted to be there and I wanted to play in that new stadium.
“There’s no doubt in my mind if I went out as a free agent, I could have made an awful lot more money than what I’m signing for. In fact, I know I could have.
"It’s just a situation, if you want to play for one team, you’re going to have to make sacrifices for that. If it was going to be me taking a pay cut, it was going to be me taking a pay cut.”
Pettitte’s agent, Randy Hendricks, said he was surprised at the Yankees’ stance but knew he had little leverage. He spoke with other teams but never took formal offers, and stayed in contact with General Manager Brian Cashman.
“We always had cordial talks, we just had a disagreement on where he should be placed,” Hendricks said. “And it was especially difficult because I knew we would do much better elsewhere.”
The stalemate with the Yankees lasted for months, but Pettitte said he always believed he would return. A critical point was last month when Cashman met with Pettitte in Houston on his way back from the winter meetings in Las Vegas.
It was the first time Cashman had spoken to Pettitte, and he sensed Pettitte’s sincerity in wanting to come back. Pettitte has spent 11 of his 14 seasons with the Yankees.
“I remember him telling me at one point, ‘Cash, if you want me back, we’ll find a way to get this done,’ ” Cashman said. “He honored that every step of the way.”
Pettitte did not want the $10 million offer, but he agreed to the concept of an incentive-based deal. Details were the problem, and weeks passed. Pettitte took a vacation, and so did Cashman. Finally, on Monday, it was time.
“We had talked about so many scenarios and possibilities, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say everybody was worn out,” Hendricks said. “I think Cash and I both knew if we don’t get it done now, we’ll probably never get it done.”
Pettitte pitched 204 innings last season, but he was 2-7 with a 6.23 earned run average in his last 11 starts. That brought his final record to 14-14. His 4.54 E.R.A. was his highest since 1999.
Yet Pettitte is only 36 — a year older than Derek Lowe, who got a four-year, $60 million deal from Atlanta — and Cashman said he was surprised at the positive medical reports he got on Pettitte’s tired shoulder. Pettitte said he has worked this winter to strengthen it.
“I got a clean bill of health from the Yankees’ doctors,” Pettitte said. “I knew I wouldn’t need any surgery, and my shoulder, structurally, looked very sound.”
The signing of Pettitte takes the mystery out of the Yankees’ planned rotation. Barring injuries, their five starters are set: Sabathia, Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain.
The Yankees have a spare outfielder—Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher could be traded—but they will likely start spring training with the team they have now. The Yankees’ payroll is rapidly approaching last year’s $209 million, and the Steinbrenners finally seem prepared to stop spending.
“I wouldn’t expect anything further at this stage, or anything significant,” Cashman said. “The family has allowed us to do so much this winter, and we hope all this stuff plays out well for us in the summer.”