Pettitte returning to Yanks a possibility

Pettitte back to the Bronx? It's a possibility

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Yankees may be looking to add a veteran left-hander to their rotation if the price is right, with several names being floated around the Winter Meetings at the Dolphin Hotel.

The most intriguing of those names is Andy Pettitte, the former Yankees fan favorite who won four World Series titles in New York before departing for Houston as a free agent after the 2003 season.

Pettitte hasn't even decided if he wants to pitch in 2007, though one of his agents indicated on Tuesday that the 34-year-old appears to be leaning toward playing at least one more year.

"The trend line is toward playing," Randy Hendricks said.

Despite Pettitte's uncertain status, Hendricks has been gauging interest from teams in the event that the pitcher decides to play in 2007. He has been negotiating with the Astros and Yankees, receiving a one-year, $15 million offer from New York, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

General manager Brian Cashman declined comment on the Yankees' interest in Pettitte, who ranks eighth on New York's all-time wins list with 149 victories from 1995-2003. Pettitte also ranks fifth on the club's all-time strikeout list.

Pettitte said shortly after the season that he was burned out, but two months off have apparently helped recharge his battery. When asked about a potential return to New York a month ago, Pettitte wouldn't rule that possibility out.

"Obviously, I love New York; I loved being here," he said on Nov. 10 while attending a charity function in Manhattan. "This place is so special because what I was able to do here and the group of guys that we had. But Houston's been awesome, too. The time I've been able to spend with my family has been special."

Hendricks told Pettitte that he needs to make a decision about playing by Dec. 22 in order for the agent to make a deal. Astros manager Phil Garner indicated Tuesday that, after speaking recently with Pettitte, he believes he will pitch next year.

"The first few times I talked to him, he wasn't sure he was going to play," Garner said. "He said he was going to make the decision later. The most recent conversation, he was more than leaning; he was really considering coming back and playing. I guess he hadn't made a definitive decision -- 'Yes, I'm definitely coming back to play' -- but it was more like, 'I'm getting very seriously interested in doing it.'"

Since Pettitte's departure after the 2003 season, the Yankees have shuffled their starting rotation on an annual basis, looking for the right mix of experience, talent and the ability to handle all that comes with pitching in pinstripes.

Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright have been unable to fill the void left by Pettitte and Roger Clemens, so bringing Pettitte back into the fold would give the Yankees a proven pitcher who can handle the pressures of October baseball in the Bronx.

"Part of the evaluation process is players' abilities, but another aspect of it is to assess how they would handle New York," Cashman said. "If somebody has been here before, that question is answered."

Pettitte made 30 starts for the Yankees in the postseason, going 13-9. His memorable 1-0 win over John Smoltz and the Braves in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series ranks as one of the best pitching performances of the club's recent championship run. He also captured MVP honors in the 2001 American League Championship Series, going 2-0 with a 2.51 ERA against Seattle.

"When there's pitching out there and it's appealing, you're certainly going to try to help your ballclub," manager Joe Torre said last month. "Andy Pettitte is a winner."

The Yankees would also view Pettitte as an attractive option because he is not demanding a long-term contract, unlike most of the other pitchers on this year's free-agent market.

Cashman was scheduled to meet with Larry O'Brien, who represents Ted Lilly, though it still appears as though Lilly is close to agreeing to a four-year deal with the Cubs. The Blue Jays are also rumored to be trying to make a last-ditch effort to retain Lilly.

The other left-hander drawing interest from the Yankees is Chicago's Mark Buehrle, as the White Sox have a surplus of starting pitching and are likely to move one of their arms.

According to a baseball official, the White Sox have expressed interest in Humberto Sanchez, the young right-hander the Yankees acquired from the Tigers last month in the Gary Sheffield trade.

One source with knowledge of the Yankees' thinking said that Buehrle, who is set to earn $9.5 million in 2007 before becoming a free agent, would not likely be enticing enough to pry Sanchez away from New York.

"I don't think he's going anywhere," the source said. "It would have to be a pretty overwhelming offer."

Cashman hasn't ruled out the possibility of dealing Sanchez, though he said would like to hold on to the hard-throwing 23-year old, as well as Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett, the two 22-year-old relievers he got in the trade.

"Now that we have them, we'd like to get a feel for who they really are by running them out there; to see what we've got over the course of the next year," Cashman said. "I wanted them; I thought they were good gets for Sheff, so now we can really see what we have."

"I'd hate to spin around a guy that I hardly got a chance to know," he added, referring to Sanchez. "I'm not looking to move him."

The Yankees currently have Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson and Pavano penciled into the starting rotation. Kei Igawa, whose rights the Yankees won last week with a $26 million posting bid to the Hanshin Tigers, is expected to sign with the Yankees this month, which would give them five starters.

Johnson is recovering from back surgery, though his agent, Alan Nero, said Tuesday that the left-hander's rehab was moving along on schedule. Pavano hasn't pitched in a big-league game since June 2005 because of a variety of injuries, so the signing of Igawa would not prevent the Yankees from adding a sixth starter.

Cashman met with both agents and other teams throughout the day on Tuesday, and he planned to continue doing so deep into the night. Arn Tellem, who represents Igawa, is among those on his schedule.

"It seemed like every hour on the hour we had somebody to meet with, again and again," Cashman said Tuesday afternoon. "We're still in the information-gathering mode."

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.