12/12/07 12:30 PM ET
Pettitte makes return official
Lefty signs one-year pact, doesn't rule out pitching in '09
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Once in a while, Pettitte might pick up the telephone and find Joe Girardi on the line, or swap text messages with teammates. But mostly there was just silence -- enough that Pettitte realized he had at least one more season in his left arm and that he should take the Yankees' contract offer.
"I think they were just giving me my space," Pettitte said. "I think they all know me extremely well. I think they all knew I was really putting a lot of pressure on myself to try and figure out what I wanted to do."
The Yankees officially announced Pettitte's return on Wednesday, as the veteran left-hander has agreed to terms on a one-year, $16 million contract offer. The deal does not contain an option for 2009, but with the new Yankee Stadium rising quickly across the street, the 35-year-old Pettitte isn't ruling out the idea that this may actually be at least a two-year career continuation.
"Obviously, I realized that the new ballpark is going to be coming in after this year," Pettitte said. "I felt like, if I made a decision to play again this year, that could draw me back for another year. That was definitely in the back of my head."
For now, the length of the deal and the financial figures were fine for Pettitte, who did have larger concerns to tackle. Even now, Pettitte said there is a large part of him that is gradually drawing him to stay closer to his Texas residence with his wife, Laura, and their four children.
"I can't say it enough: I'm extremely, extremely close to just feeling like I'm ready to be home," Pettitte said.
But the Yankees' need for a strong workhorse starting pitcher also weighed heavily in Pettitte's mind. He was arguably the team's most reliable hurler this year, posting a 15-9 record and 4.05 ERA in 36 games (34 starts), and spoke almost incredulously about how well his surgically repaired left elbow was holding up late in the season.
"I may have built myself up to think that there was no way I was going to get through this year  without several cortisone shots," Pettitte said.
It was a performance that came only after he'd put off thoughts of retirement for the first time, implored at a reunion dinner of the 1996 Yankees to suit up once more in the Bronx.
That was more about nostalgia, but now Pettitte says he is looking toward the future. With a cast of three impressive but largely untested rookie hurlers -- Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy -- angling to be major pieces of the rotation, Pettitte knows that attaining a similar level of production will be part of the challenge.
"They're bringing me back not to be a fifth starter, but to try to help lead that staff," Pettitte said. "I knew I needed to make a decision, for the organization's sake and mine."
Pettitte spread word of his return with a few select calls to teammates, and his agent, Randy Hendricks did the heavy lifting, informing the Yankees and media outlets on the eve of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Conversations with Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter, among numerous others, helped spur the decision.
"It always helps when you feel like your teammates want you to be back," Pettitte said.
Coinciding with Pettitte's return, senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner installed a time limit on the Minnesota Twins to accept the Yankees' pitch for Johan Santana, an offer that has since been removed from discussions -- though many believe the Yankees could re-enter at any point.
As far as Pettitte is concerned, however, he believes that 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang -- who has won 38 games in the last two seasons, more than any other Major League pitcher -- is all the ace the Yankees need.
Pettitte shrugged off Wang's underwhelming AL Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, reminding reporters that postseason struggles aren't exactly foreign to the left-hander, either.
"There's been a lot of speculation that we need a true power arm ace," Pettitte said. "I disagree with that. I think Wang is an absolute stud. I think he is an ace. I understand that he struggled in the postseason this year, and that's going to happen. I've struggled just like he has."
Pettitte's return completes a clean sweep of important free-agent players that the Yankees had hoped to retain after the season. After opting out during the World Series, Rodriguez opted back in by agreeing to terms on a 10-year, $275 million deal; the Yankees also retained Mariano Rivera with a three-year, $45 million agreement and have finalized a four-year, $52.4 million contract with Jorge Posada.
"The organization did a great job of committing to the players," Pettitte said. "They deserve to be back and they're going to do an unbelievable job to carry on this Yankee tradition. With the new ballpark coming, the organization has stepped up to bring those guys back. It's going to be exciting."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.