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Andy Pettitte Returns

In the category of seriously perplexing but welcome news comes word that Andy Pettitte has come out of retirement and will be rejoining the Yankees. An already-crowded rotation picture has now become seriously swollen, with a borderline Hall of Famer attempting a comeback after a year-long layoff.

Pettitte was very good when he retired, although he also missed roughly 60 days with a groin injury, an occurrence that might have happened to anybody or might be suggestive of an aging and increasingly fragile body. I am reminded of Tom Seaver’s abortive 1987 comeback with the Mets. Seaver was signed, put on a uniform, attempted to get into game-shape, but at 42, his body just wasn’t up to the challenge and he quickly resumed his retirement. Pettitte is two years younger, but you never know what a year at home might do to a guy.

Assuming that Pettitte can get into major-league form, there is a question of when he will be ready—surely not by the end of spring training—and then who gets bumped to the bullpen or off the team entirely. As of this moment, there are seven candidates for five spots. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Michael Pineda seem like locks, the last for the reasons we discussed earlier this week—you don’t trade Jesus Montero just to chuck the guy you get onto the homeless Scranton team. Phil Hughes has worked out of the bullpen before and still has some upside, so you could see him there. The problem is that there aren’t really any high-leverage roles available at this point—he won’t be pitching the seventh, the eighth, or the ninth, assuming David Robertson is healthy. Sending Hughes to the pen turns him into a faceless middle reliever at the start of the season, a far fall for a top prospect.

Freddy Garcia seems like the obvious candidate to depart the rotation at that point given his age and a recent track record that suggests that he pitched over his head last season. However, I wonder if Ivan Nova is more on the bubble than might normally be indicated by his 3.70 ERA and 16 wins. This is a pitcher who clearly did well, but inspired so little confidence that the Yankees demoted him at midseason. His strikeout rate is low and his results as things stand may not be duplicable. In short, the Yankees got lucky with Nova last year and they may know it.

I’d rather go with youth every time, and part of me still smarts from the way Dennis Rasmussen was demoted to Columbus in 1987, the season after he went 18-6 in the majors. The Yankees were wrong that time, but they might be right to be hesitant about Nova.

All of those concerns aside, this is a terrific story, one which sees one of the great Yankees pitchers ride out of retirement. The tumult when he reappears on a major-league mound is going to be something to see, with a level of emotion, one suspects, far more sincere than when Roger Clemens made his return from self-imposed exile.