What Andy Pettitte’s comeback means for the New York Yankees

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Still reeling from the news that Andy Pettitte is coming back.  He sat in that press conference a little over a year ago and made a pretty convincing case that he was done.  I suppose they all do. And so many of them come back.

Which is fine. Because if you had the talent to do something that so many have described as the most magical wonderful experience in their lives — playing major league baseball — you’d hold on to it with all of your might.  So, no, there will not be any criticism of Andy Pettitte’s reversal from this quarter.  Good for him and God bless him.

So, with that out of the way, what does this all mean for the New York Yankees, who now have seven starting pitchers?

At first, probably nothing.  Pettitte is reported to have thrown some bullpens over the winter and he’s generally in shape, but it will take him a little time to get up to baseball speed.  He’ll likely take the rest of spring training to get back to major league shape and it would not be at all surprising to see him begin the year in extended spring training down in Tampa.

Oh, and after he gets in shape, one wonders if they’ll hold him beyond mid-to-late April. That’s when the Roger Clemens trial starts, and Pettitte is expected to be a witness.  Maybe no one with the Yankees cares about this, but I would think that it might be easier for all involved if he makes his big league return after that than before.

But when he does come back, who is the odd man out in New York?  My guess: Freddy Garcia.

At the moment, the fifth starter’s job is down to Garcia and Phil Hughes.  Hughes has worked from the pen before, however, and Garcia is just not suited for it according to most folks.  So the Yankees break camp with Garcia in the five slot and Hughes in relief.

But once Pettitte is ready, Garcia has no place. They could attempt to keep him around as a long man.  Or they could try to trade him. And assuming he gets one or two halfway decent starts under his belt before then, there may very well be a market for him.  But they could also simply DFA him and see if he’ll accept a trip to Scranton.  Doubtful he would, but worth a shot.

The upshot is that, assuming Pettitte is good to go, the rotation for most of the season should look like this:  Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pineda and Pettitte, with Garcia finding new employment.

Oh, one final question: how will Andy Pettitte actually, you know, do?

I think he’ll do pretty well.  His last year, 2010, was his best since 2005.  His strikeout rate (7.0 per 9 IP) was higher than his career average. His hits per nine innings (8.6) was lower than his career norms too.  His walk rate was right where it always is at 2.9 BB per 9 IP.

Yes, he’s two years older and yes he’s coming off a layoff, but even if you adjust down for that, Pettitte figures to be no worse than an average starter, and likely somewhat above average.  Which is not a bad pickup for $2.5 million.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.

Colby Rasmus could start 2017 on the disabled list

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Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.

Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.

The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.