http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/11/sport ... 1YANK.html
Astros' Bid for Pettitte Puts Yanks in a Bind
By TYLER KEPNER
Published: December 11, 2003
All along, the Yankees have known there was one thing they could never offer Andy Pettitte: the opportunity to pitch near his home in Deer Park, Tex. The Yankees still had a chance to retain him last night, but in what would be the most stinging blow of a chaotic off-season, Pettitte may be slipping away to the Houston Astros.
A baseball official with knowledge of the discussions said the Yankees believe that Pettitte wants to stay in the Houston area and that they would need to offer a three- or four-year contract worth $15 million a season to retain him. George Steinbrenner, the team's principal owner, who has never been a strong supporter of Pettitte's, has shown no willingness to meet that price.
But Steinbrenner was flying last night from New York to Tampa, Fla., and planned to hold a conference call with top club officials after he landed. If he feared the embarrassment of losing Pettitte, Steinbrenner could raise the Yankees' offer and make Pettitte decide between the Yankees' riches and a lesser contract to play at home.
One of Pettitte's agents, Randy Hendricks, said yesterday that Pettitte had not reached an agreement with the Astros. "There is no deal done as I write this," he said in an e-mail message.
The Yankees offered Pettitte a three-year, $30 million contract before he filed for free agency, with the promise that they would increase the offer. Pettitte's father, Tom, said on Tuesday that the Pettittes expected the Yankees to pursue him more aggressively and that the family was puzzled by the approach.
The Astros, meanwhile, have used their proximity to Pettitte to their advantage, meeting him personally at Minute Maid Park early in the free-agent process. Their offer is believed to be a three-year deal for roughly $10 million a season, which would represent a pay cut for Pettitte despite his 21 victories last season, when he made $11.5 million.
The Houston Chronicle reported on its Web site yesterday that Pettitte had passed a physical for the Astros, and agents and officials with other teams said they had heard Pettitte would sign with Houston.
Asked what it would be like to play without Pettitte, Derek Jeter, the Yankees' captain, said: "It would be weird. It would be awkward. You play with a certain guy a long time and you always think you going to play with him and then these types of things happen."
If Pettitte chooses the Astros, Steinbrenner may use the savings to splurge for the free-agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. The Yankees could stay with the five starters they have but would more likely explore ways to add another prominent starter. They have tried to trade for the Los Angeles Dodgers' Kevin Brown, and those talks could be revived.
But an equally pressing issue is Guerrero, a slugging right fielder who would be a more expensive alternative to Gary Sheffield. Officials familiar with the Yankees' plans have said that the Yankees have renewed interest in Guerrero, with one official yesterday calling them "big players" for him.
General Manager Brian Cashman has been talking with Fern Cuza, Guerrero's agent. Cuza did not comment on his negotiations, saying yesterday, "Things are very delicate."
But Cuza stressed that teams should not be concerned about Guerrero's back; a herniated disk caused him to miss more than six weeks last season. When he returned, Guerrero hit .353 with 17 home runs in 218 at-bats. "He's stronger than ever," Cuza said.
Some Yankees officials do not want Sheffield, reasoning that Guerrero, 27, is almost eight years younger and a better defensive player. But Steinbrenner forged ahead with Sheffield, a former Atlanta Braves slugger and Tampa native, personally negotiating a three-year, $39 million contract.
Sheffield boasted of the deal in USA Today SportsWeekly, referring to the Yankees as "we," quoting Steinbrenner as welcoming him to the team and using the Yankees' workout facilities in Tampa. But there was never a formal agreement, and the deferred money in the deal brought down its present-day value and caused Sheffield to reconsider.
"The discussions have been to get it back to the level it was initially understood to be valued at," Rufus Williams, Sheffield's agent and business manager, said.
Sheffield attended the Maryland-Florida college basketball game in Gainesville last night, sitting with Darryl Strawberry, now a minor league instructor for the Yankees. Asked by ESPN about his future, Sheffield called the delay in negotiations "a bump in the road." He said, "I'm looking forward to being a Yankee."
Williams said that he did not know of any meetings scheduled between Sheffield and Steinbrenner, but that he did not think Steinbrenner would have reason to be angry.
"I won't pretend to know him well enough to know what is going to anger him or send him one way or another," Williams said. "I think everything that has happened are things that happen in normal negotiations. Snags occur and they get worked out. I suspect this will be worked out as well."
But if Steinbrenner does feel jilted, he may order an all-out push for Guerrero and leave Sheffield to search for another team. Steinbrenner is also trying to sign Kenny Lofton to play center field and wants to bring David Wells back.
Wells, who had back surgery last week but is expected to be ready during spring training, would be the Yankees' sixth starter, joining Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez, José Contreras, Jeff Weaver and Jon Lieber.
But Weaver is coming off a terrible season and Lieber is recovering from elbow surgery in 2002. Steinbrenner would seem to demand more certainty than that, especially with the Boston Red Sox having added Curt Schilling to their rotation.
The Red Sox made an early run at Pettitte, but he has seriously considered only the Astros and the Yankees, the only team he has played for in a nine-year career. Pettitte, 31, is 149-78 and needs 88 victories to break Whitey Ford's club record.