Why Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera Will Both Return in 2013 for Proper Swan Song

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Why Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera Will Both Return in 2013 for Proper Swan Song
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Yankees were supposed to see a familiar face out on the mound on Tuesday night for the first time in a couple of months, but Mother Nature had other plans.

Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte, out since June with a broken left ankle, was set to start for the Yankees against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, as Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com reported, but the word from YES Network broadcaster Michael Kay is that Tuesday's game has been rained out:

Pettitte's first start in nearly three whole months will have to wait.

It's coming, though, and it really couldn't come at a better time. Given the circumstances in the AL East, the Yankees need as much help as they can get in the last couple of weeks of the regular season.

As such, they'd no doubt love to see Mariano Rivera back on the mound as well. This, however, is something we know isn't happening. Mo teased a potential return to the Yankees by the end of the season way back in July, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman moved quickly to squash that possibility. Rivera's torn ACL needs more time to heal.

However, Rivera did vow way back in May that he would be back in 2013, saying he's "not going out like this."

Pettitte has also left the door open for a potential return in 2013. He said this weekend, via ESPNNewYork.com, that his injury has changed his thinking.

Said Pettitte:

I could probably say that when I came back I thought there was no chance that I was coming back, this is a one-year deal. But getting hurt and only having 60 innings right now and you were hoping to have a couple hundred innings under your belt, it definitely gives me the option to consider coming back again next year, that's for sure.

Granted, Pettitte went on to say that he's basically in wait-and-see mode for now. It's also worth noting that Rivera backed off his promise to pitch in 2013 back in July because he doesn't want to leave himself open for disappointment if it turns out his body won't allow him to pitch.

So really, it's anybody's guess as to whether Pettitte and/or Rivera will pitch for the Yankees again in 2013. 

Here's my best guess: Both of them will be back in 2013. Allow me to explain why.

 

Why Andy Pettitte Will Be Back

When Pettitte made his 2012 debut on May 13, nobody really had any idea what to expect. He didn't officially sign on with the Yankees until late in spring training, and he wasn't exactly a picture of health when he last pitched in the majors in 2010.

Pettitte proceeded to shatter expectations in the first eight starts he made for the Yankees upon his return, posting a 3.29 ERA and a .228 opponents' batting average. He pitched at least six innings in each of his first eight starts, and he probably would have pitched six innings in his ninth start had a line drive not hit him in the leg.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The Yankees went 6-3 in the nine starts Pettitte made before he got hurt.

That line drive, of course, landed Pettitte on the DL, freezing him at 58.2 innings pitched until now. There's only enough time left in the season for him to make three more starts. Because the Yankees are going to be watching his pitch count and his innings like a hawk, it's hard to imagine Pettitte finishing with any more than 80 innings under his belt when the season comes to a close.

If so, Pettitte would officially set a new career low for innings in a single season. That's not ideal, but you can obviously see where he's coming from when he says that he figured he was in for a much larger workload when he decided to come back this year. 

Just like he wasn't back in 2010, Pettitte has not been a picture of health this season. We are, however, talking about a freak injury that has derailed his season. This year has left Pettitte with few, if any, reasons to think that his body can't handle pitching in the big leagues anymore.

Conventional wisdom says that his body will break down if he comes back in 2013, as he'll be 41 years old by next June. However, this is a possibility that shouldn't be taken for granted. The track record for pitchers in their early 40s isn't utterly hopeless.

On Monday, Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs posted a helpful rundown of left-handers who were still pitching in their early 40s. Among the lefties in recent history who enjoyed some decent success were Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, David Wells and Jamie Moyer.

With the exception of the Big Unit, who could still strike hitters out with the best of them when he was in his early 40s, the key for all the old lefties who enjoyed some success later in their careers was to have good control. For them, it was pretty much all smoke and mirrors.

Pettitte has demonstrated this season that he's more than up to the task of keeping hitters guessing. The 2.3 BB/9 he's posted so far this season is his lowest such mark since his near-Cy Young season with the Houston Astros in 2005. His 9.1 K/9 is fluky, but it goes to show that Pettitte's pitch selection and location were as good as ever when he was pitching earlier this season.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Pettitte allowed four earned runs over 14 innings in two postseason starts in 2010.

If we include Pettitte's 2010 season in the discussion, we're talking about a pitcher who has a 3.26 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9 and 7.7 K/9 over his last 187.2 innings. Numbers such as these qualify Pettitte as a well-above-average pitcher.

The Yankees certainly need one of those now, and they're going to take as many of those as they can get in 2013 as well.

Per Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Yankees only have a handful of starting pitchers looked up for next season. One, obviously, is CC Sabathia, and the others are Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and David Phelps.

Because this group leaves a lot to be desired, I'll be surprised if the Yankees don't find a way to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda after what he's done for them this season (14-10, 3.26 ERA). But even if they do, the back end of their prospective 2013 rotation will still need some work.

Hughes is fine, but Pineda will be coming off major shoulder surgery, and Nova will be coming off a season in which he's given up a lot of hard-hit balls and hurt himself with walks. Phelps has been decent as a starter, but he hasn't done enough to prove that he deserves to be handed a rotation spot in 2013.

Complicating matters is the fact that both Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, who entered the season as the Yankees' two best pitching prospects, endured trying seasons in 2012. Banuelos was hurt for much of the year, and Betances struggled to the point where the Yankees really had no choice but to demote him from Triple-A to Double-A.

The Yankees are going to need to arrange some depth for their rotation this winter, and it will need to be cheap depth if they're serious about lowering their payroll. 

That's where Pettitte will reenter the equation. Per a report from Newsday, the Yankees are only paying him $2.5 million this season. They could bring him back on a similar deal, or perhaps even a little cheaper, if he decides that he does indeed want to keep pitching.

My money is on him wanting to pitch. His ankle injury saved his arm a lot of wear and tear this season, and the fact that Pettitte teased a return in 2013 is a sign that he still has the bug just as bad as he had it earlier this year when the Yankees were gearing up for the 2012 season.

He probably won't stop pitching until he embarrasses himself. And judging from the way he was pitching earlier this season, he has it in him to hold off embarrassment for another season.

 

Why Mariano Rivera Will Be Back

Between the two of them, Rivera would seem to be a bigger lock than Pettitte to come back in 2013, but that's largely because he promised so vehemently to come back just a few weeks after he tore his ACL.

As mentioned above, he sort of took that promise back in July. 

“I don’t want to put something in my mind because if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be disappointed,” he said.

He also said, “I don’t even know if I want to play next year. I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. One day at a time."

The latter quote contradicts something else he said in May, via Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News:

I was leaning toward coming back. I was feeling strong on that. It’s hard. I was weighing how I feel, the traveling, the games, and it’s the same. The traveling, I hate it; the playing, I love it. I was torn between that.

So one minute, Rivera was saying that a comeback in 2013 was as good as set in stone. The next minute, he pulled a complete 180. He hasn't made it easy to get a read on his thinking.

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Rivera had a 2.16 ERA in nine appearances at the time of his injury.

The one thing we have to keep in mind about Mo, however, is that he's dealing with an injury that generally takes a year to recover from. He won't really know how he feels about 2013 until he throws from a mound for the first time, and that's something he hasn't done yet. All he's done to this point, according to the Yankees' official website, is play long toss.

The bright side in all this is that Rivera is in pretty much the same boat as Pettitte. What he's dealing with is not an arm or shoulder injury brought on by years of wear a tear, but a knee injury caused by a freak accident. Just like Pettitte, Rivera's arm was just fine at the time he got hurt.

Rivera's arm has been just fine his whole career, of course. You don't rank eighth on the all-time list in appearances unless you enjoy good health for a long time, and Rivera has been lucky enough to enjoy good health for close to 20 years.

Yes, he's old. Rivera is 42 now and will turn 43 in November. He's no spring chicken.

But hey, he already ranks fifth in WAR on the all-time list for relievers after the age of 40, according to Baseball-Reference.com. That's just another fact that tells us that he's a freak of nature.

If Mo decides he wants to pitch in 2013, the Yankees will be glad to have him back. Their bullpen has been solid this year, in large part thanks to the job Rafael Soriano has done filling in for Rivera, but there's no denying it isn't as deep or as dominant as it was in 2011. The Yankees' bullpen had a 3.12 ERA in 2011, and it has a 3.41 ERA this year.

The Yankees would have to bring Mo back at their price, however. Mo is on the books for $15 million this season, and he's certainly not getting that kind of money if he chooses to play again in 2013.

He'd have to sign a one-year contract with a much lower base salary (i.e. $5 million or below). The Yankees could sweeten the deal with incentives.

If Mo really wants to pitch, he'd agree to that. He'd be taking a pay cut, to be sure, but that shouldn't deter him too much, seeing as how he's already made well over $100 million at this point in his career.

Alex Trautwig/Getty Images
Soriano has 40 saves and a 2.07 ERA.

The one danger in bringing back Rivera is that it could prompt Soriano to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract. But as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported, Soriano is already leaning towards doing that.

Soriano opting out wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. The Yankees would still have David Robertson to set up for Rivera, and they could go out and find a cheaper replacement for Soriano on the open market. Names that come to mind are guys like Mike Adams, Ryan Madson and Mark Lowe.

Whether or not the Yankees retain Soriano, they're going to have a strong bullpen once again in 2013 if they re-sign Rivera.

Saying as much is definitely dependent on Rivera pitching well after suffering the first major injury of his career. But while I do have some doubts about his ability to come back, I know as well as anyone that it's never a good idea to bet against the great Mariano Rivera.

 

Special thanks to Baseball-Reference.com for the stats.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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