Notes: Pettitte watch begins
Following holiday break, Girardi looks to talk to lefty about '08
NEW YORK -- If Joe Girardi's reasoning is correct, Andy Pettitte may be getting to a point where the baseball bug is biting, where thoughts of retirement can be put off for one more World Series pursuit.
If that's true, the Yankees could hear from the 35-year-old left-hander sometime in the near future. Just to be sure, the Yankees manager plans to check in on Pettitte after the Thanksgiving holiday, just to find out where his hopes and feelings are.
"I think it's very important that he comes back," Girardi said on Tuesday. "I think that he knows the Yankee way, and he was a big plus in the clubhouse, as well as on the field. I know what Andy Pettitte's all about, and I would love to have him back."
Pettitte was 15-9 with a 4.05 ERA in 36 games (34 starts) for the Yankees in 2007, serving as one of the key workhorses of the club's rotation. Though he is currently a free agent, there appears to be no danger of Pettitte pitching elsewhere.
When Pettitte declined his $16 million player option earlier this offseason, it was with the understanding that he would not play for another club in 2008 -- Pettitte plans to either pitch for the Yankees or retire.
Girardi, who has already spoken to Pettitte once since being named as the Yankees' 32nd field manager on Oct. 30, said that he does not yet have a sense on which way the lefty might be leaning.
"I think it's too early to tell," Girardi said. "I think you can ask any player right after the season how they're feeling, and everyone's ready for a short break. To me, it's about when you get away from the game for a month and a half -- all of a sudden you start missing it. We're getting to that point in time."
In a late-season interview with MLB.com, Pettitte said that he would need to return home in Houston and figure out what would be right for him to do "as a husband and as a father."
Pettitte was talked out of retirement by several Yankees at Joe Torre's charity dinner before the 2007 season, and agent Randy Hendricks has said that he does not expect Pettitte to make a decision anytime soon.
"I think it's a family situation," Girardi said. "I think Andy needs to decide what he feels is best for his family. None of us can make that decision for him."
Even without Pettitte back in the fold, the Yankees have accomplished plenty in the weeks since the American League Division Series ended New York's postseason hopes. The club appears to have retained free agents Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, while also picking up a $16 million option on Bobby Abreu.
"I think everyone feels better," Girardi said. "When you talk about losing your starting catcher, your starting third baseman and your closer, that's a big concern. It's not like we were losing average players -- we were losing players that were at the top of their profession. Whenever you have a chance to bring them back, it's very exciting."
Rotation station: If the Yankees' offseason progresses according to plans, Joba Chamberlain will report to Spring Training as a starter, picking back up where he left his progression in July, when an S.O.S. call came out from the Major League club for a reliever.
The 22-year-old Chamberlain was a dominant force in relief for the Yankees, going 2-0 with one save and a 0.38 ERA in 19 relief appearances, before his season came unhinged by a swarm of Lake Erie midges during Game 2 of the ALDS.
As effective as Chamberlain was in relief, doing so largely on the strength of his high-90s fastball and biting slider, new pitching coach Dave Eiland believes the organization is in agreement that Chamberlain should be in the rotation going forward.
"He's a four-pitch guy," Eiland said. "Right now, three of those four pitches are above-average Major League pitches -- his fastball, his slider, his curveball. His changeup was in the development process when he got converted to the bullpen late in the summer, but it was coming along very quickly and very nicely. I'd say it's an average Major League changeup right now, and it's going to be above average."
While saying that Chamberlain as a member of the rotation is not etched in stone, Eiland said that members of the organization are "all leaning that way."
"It's going to be an adjustment, more mental than anything," Eiland said. "I think Joba's not that far removed from starting. There was an adjustment for him going from starting to relieving, but as we all know, that was a very smooth adjustment.
"I think starting is going to be the same way, because he's very familiar with that. It'll be another thing to get him back and stretched out again. He's been coming in and letting it fly for one inning or two at the most, but Joba is a very smart kid and talented."
Speaking about potential pitchers who could fill roles similar to Chamberlain's setup presence, Eiland had positive words about prospect Steven White, who pitched in the Arizona Fall League and spent most of 2007 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 6-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 16 games (15 starts).
"His arm is very resilient," Eiland said. "I think he can fit that role as a middle guy, long reliever, spot starter. I think he's somebody you're going to see and hear some things from in '08 at some point."
Five alive: If the Yankees' season started today, Girardi speculated, the club's starting rotation would feature -- in some order -- Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.
At this early point in the offseason, players can be subtracted and added from that arrangement, and certainly, the Yankees hope Pettitte will be in the mix, as well. But if there are questions about what Mussina -- to turn 39 by Opening Day, coming off an 11-10, 5.15 ERA season that saw him shuttled to long relief in August -- may be able to offer, they are not being posed by Girardi.
"Mike Mussina had a bunch of good months last year," Girardi said. "Yeah, he went through a month period where he really struggled, but that's not unusual for players. ... I think Mike Mussina has a lot to offer."
Girardi also ran down the club's arrangement at first base, saying that he feels comfortable with figuring out playing time amongst his current roster contenders of Jason Giambi, Shelley Duncan and Andy Phillips. How much playing time Giambi receives in the field will depend on his health and on discussions as Spring Training nears, but Girardi did not rule out Giambi seeing time at first base.
"I think we will work that spot out very well," Girardi said. "I think we have plenty there."
Roster additions: The Yankees signed right-hander Scott Patterson to a Major League contract on Tuesday, while adding catcher Francisco Cervelli and right-handed pitchers Jeffrey Marquez and White to the 40-man roster.
Patterson, 28, was 4-2 with two saves and a 1.05 ERA in 44 combined games (three starts) at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2007. The Yankees' roster now stands at 39 players.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.