Now that Andy Pettitte has returned from his Hawaiian Hau'oli Makahiki Hou, it's hard to tell who's awaiting his plans for next season with greater anticipation: Yankee fans or Yankee....ummm...shall we say, non-fans.
While his return certainly would be cause for a cheer by the former, if he decides to retire, it will hardly be cause for a funeral in Yankee Universe, nor will it be a body blow to the team's ultimate mission of returning to the World Series this year.
So the latter had better reserve their eulogies and shovels for another occasion.
For all the blanket condemnations concerning the aging of the Yankees, in Andy's case it certainly appears to apply, as his DL-shortened 2010 campaign proved.
If he returns, even if fully mended from his multiple physical ills, the Yankees would count themselves fortunate if he could match his 23 starts of last season. Likewise, his 11 wins, though an attainable objective, would hardly be guaranteed.
He would need to be rested at scheduled intervals like last season; more frequently and for longer periods at the first sign any of his painful strains and pulls might be bothering him.
Not even the Yankees are expecting him to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher this season if he returns.
Conversely, however, that means if he decides to retire, it's not hard at all to imagine one or even two younger healthier arms, from within or without the organization, being readily available and easily replacing those 11 wins and more.
An ace of Cliff Lee's stature is hardly necessary to replace those 11 wins, nor is one necessary to repeat or improve upon a decidedly ragged rotation performance that still managed to take the team to within two games of a consecutive Series appearance.
Just two games better.
The rest of the American League has a decidedly longer way to go than that, including the now-Leeless Rangers.
As for losing Lee, the Yankees likely improved their record by at least three games or more this season in doing so...and it didn't cost them a cent.
The Phillies handily accomplished at least half of what the Yankees had hoped to achieve themselves, which was remove Lee as an obstacle to the Series for the remainder of his effective pitching career.
Just as the Red Sox did last season in their three-team swapadeedoo that sent Roy Halladay north and John Lackey east, the Phillies removed yet another certified Yankee killer from our universe and made the path to the next ring that much smoother.
I’ll leave you with this final thought:
The talent pool for trades is light years deeper and wider than the curbside garage sale of the Hot Stove; the Yankee farm is hip deep in bargaining chips; and Yankees GM Brian Cashman has Lee’s $150 million severance pay bulging in his back pocket.
If you think you've seen Cashman and company stalk their quarry with a take-no-prisoners vengeance in the past, can you picture what they'll be like with all that live ammo if Andy doesn't return?
Hardly anybody's starting pitchers will be off the table...or untouchable.
In summary, anyone betting the Yankees—who've only missed one post-season in 16 years—won’t be returning again in 2011 as good or better than ever, with or without Andy, now hear this: Your money is going to be in my pocket.
So say aloha already, Andy, and let’s play ball.