The Yankees are said to be "frozen'' while they continue to wait on Andy Pettitte's decision about whether he intends to play in 2011. Spring training is only two weeks away, and Pettitte holds the key to the storied team's entire winter. Their failure to secure Cliff Lee will still loom large no matter what Pettitte decides, but the reality is, if Pettitte returns the Yankees will field an improved team, based upon bullpen upgrades, from the club that won the AL wild card and reached the ALCS last year. If he does not, for the moment at least, their rotation will include unproven prospect Ivan Nova and journeyman Sergio Mitre.
It's still unclear whether the 38-year-old Pettitte will be back for a 17th season but Yankees people seem a bit more optimistic in recent days. That optimism dates back to several days ago when they learned Pettitte was conducting his usual January workouts. "Why work out if he isn't coming back?'' said one competing executive. Yankees people are thinking the same thing.
At this point, it seems more likely than not that Pettitte pitches sometime in 2011 but there are no guarantees. The long delay may suggest an ambivalence or at least a hesitancy, and some teammates say through second parties they still think Pettitte may not play this year. That Pettitte has taken his decision into late January before hasn't stopped the speculation from running rampant.
Is it the slow healing process for the groin injury that landed him on the disabled list last season that has put doubts in Pettitte's mind? Is it his family tugging at him to stay home? Is it concerns about his role in the Roger Clemens trial, which is slated to begin in July?
The groin did take longer than he thought, and perhaps his new workouts are a way to test it. The family is said to be on board for a return, so that doesn't seem like an impediment. And one person close to Pettitte said the speculation about the trial affecting Pettitte's baseball plans is "way off base.''
Ultimately, with his family's blessing, and his interest in one day reaching the Hall of Fame, the belief is that Pettitte will pitch this year.
Meanwhile, the Yankees remain patient -- though general manager Brian Cashman recently asked Pettitte not to pull a "Favre'' on them, referring to the indecisive quarterback great. They have little choice but to wait, although they do recall that their patience with Cliff Lee didn't pay off. While they were believing Lee's stance to them that he wouldn't mind coming to New York and were waiting and hoping that he would, it's obvious now that Lee was waiting and hoping that his preferred Phillies would eventually get seriously involved. And they did, eventually signing him to a lucrative contract.
There's no evidence that the Yankees would have gotten Lee anyway if they had forced the issue, as he seemed to lean slightly toward a return to Texas over a new experience in New York. They could also afford to wait because there was no good second free-agent choice for the rotation, as ex-Yankee Carl Pavano never made sense for them, despite Cashman's brief foray back into Pavano's world (his bosses weren't about to go for that).
And there was no other starter who could even be considered a top No. 3 man. Except for Pettitte, who continues to hold the cards. When he wasn't injured in 2010, he showed he still has plenty left. Pettitte went 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA, becoming the first major leaguer to pitch 16 seasons and never once have a losing record. Now there is a $12-million contract waiting for him for a 17th season, if only he'll take it.
The Yankees will consider other starting alternatives, but only after hearing from Pettitte. And it appears they won't necessarily sign anyone additionally if Pettitte says yes. If he says no, though, they will consider Kevin Millwood and perhaps Freddy Garcia.
Pettitte isn't the only big name weighing retirement. Here are some more who are bordering on the cusp of calling it quits but haven't made any final decisions:
• The Yankees did sign former Cy Young pitcher Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal after a productive winter ball performance and impressive Tampa tryout, and some characterized the move as low-risk, high-reward. But one competing exec characterized it slightly differently, saying, "There is no real risk. But there is no real reward, either.''
• The Indians and Royals are among other possibilities for Millwood.
• The White Sox are considering bringing back Garcia, as first reported by SI.com. If they do, it would allow them to keep Chris Sale in the bullpen, where some White Sox people prefer him. The one issue they have with signing another starter is that they expect Jake Peavy back by June or perhaps even earlier, and if they sign someone and Peavy returns, they'd have six starters. Garcia had a two-to-one ratio of strikeouts-to-walks while going 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA last year, and shouldn't be judged by radar gun readings; the man is a winner. The Ozzie Guillen connection makes Garcia a decent possibility to return to the South Side.
• The Orioles reportedly have made an offer to designated hitter supreme Vladimir Guerrero, and while that bid hasn't been revealed, it is believed to be for only a fraction of the more than $8 million he rejected from the Rangers early in the offseason. At the time, it didn't seem so outrageous he'd turn that down. But now, with DHs in abundance on the free agent market, it doesn't look like he can come close to that figure. A person familiar with Baltimore's situation characterized their remaining dollars as "limited.'' The Rangers, meanwhile, have no spot for Guerrero except on the off chance they find a trade for Michael Young. Texas would have loved to have Guerrero but didn't want to give him a two-year deal (and apparently neither did anyone else).
• The Rangers have started to talk to GM Jon Daniels about a contract extension, which would be a wise move for them. Team sources expect it to get done. Daniels declined comment.
• Same goes for Charlie Manuel and the Phillies. One competing exec remarked that he was shocked Manuel makes less than $3 million a year. That shouldn't be the case for long.
• Three years and $34 million is too much for solid Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez. As one competing exec remarked, "Wow.'' Good job by the Wasserman Group on that one.
• Baseball people predict "five or six'' cases will go to arbitration. The Astros and Hunter Pence are headed to a hearing since it's that team's policy to go if no deal is consummated by the exchange date. The same apparently is true for the Blue Jays and slugger Jose Bautista.
• Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski should have made my list of