According to the New York media, losing Andy Pettitte signals the "End of the Joe Torre Yankees." The story is being spun several ways: George Steinbrenner did not appreciate what he had in Pettitte, and dissed him; or, Andy Pettitte wanted to go home to pitch, no matter how much money the Yankees offered. If the Yankees had courted Pettitte from jump the way they have wined and dined free agents like Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi he would still probably be a Yankee. The question is: Did the Yankees overlook Pettitte due to their own arrogance, or were they simply not interested in re-signing him in the first place? And: Was he worth keeping? The other piece of the puzzle is: Who was behind the Yankees course of action? George Steinbrenner, or the Yankee braintrust of Brian Cashman and Stick Michael? Or a combination of the two?
I felt a degree of sadness watching the highlights of Pettitte's career in New York last night. But I wasn't angry anymore. At either Pettitte or the Yankees. But the New York columnists were spitting mad this morning. If you have the stomach for it, check out the latest from Lupica, Vaccaro, Heyman, Harper, Anderson, Kernan, Sherman, Olson, and Bob Raissman.
The Yankees didn't waste any time in moving ahead. They have traded Jeff Weaver, two prospects and $3 million in cash to the L.A. Dodgers for Kevin Brown. The Yankees still need to go over the fine print in Brown's contract before the deal can be completed. Brown is a 39-year old pitcher with a history of injury problems, but when he is healthy, he is nasty and he's an ace. The deal would give the Yankees a heavy right-handed rotation (with the lone exception of David Wells).
So, are the Yankees better off with Brown and Vasquez in 2004 than they were with Clemens and Pettitte in 2003? According to Gary Huckabay in The New York Sun, indeed they are:
Can Brown be expected to outperform Pettitte? Absolutely. His 2003 ERA was 2.39, far better than Pettitte's, even after factoring in the benefit from pitching in Dodger Stadium. Brown's strikeout rate and control are both outstanding, and indicate that he is more likely to continue his success than Pettitte is to continue his. Yankee fans will likely forget about Pettitte and the circumstances under which he left by about the fourth inning of Brown's first start.
...Andy Pettitte's been a good pitcher, but he hasn't been great. He's logged just under 1,800 innings in his Yankee career, posting an ERA of 3.94. Yes, he's won 149 games, but he's done so with some truly tremendous levels of run support. Pettitte's reputation has come in large part due to his appearances in the postseason, where he's been viewed as some sort of latter-day Clutch God. This reputation is something of a mystery; his actual postseason performance hasn't really been all that noteworthy (30 games, 186.2 innings pitched, 201 hits, 52 walks, 118 strikeouts, 4.05 era).
Rob Neyer agrees, and thinks that Brown and Vasquez represents a significant upgrade for the Bombers:
Could a Yankees rotation that includes Brown stack up with the Red Sox's new Schilling-ful squad? You'd better believe it. Mussina/Vazquez/Brown is just as good as Martinez/Schilling/Lowe, and I suspect most clubs would take Jose Contreras over Tim Wakefield in the fourth slot.
It's true, as the rosters stand right now, the Red Sox would have to be considered the favorites in 2004. But the way things stand now isn't the way they'll stand in March, at which point I suspect the Yankees will have muscled their way back to the top of the forecasted standings.
Neyer is less than impressed with Pettitte's reputation as a great pitcher:
How will Andy Pettitte fare in Houston? He'll presumably enjoy his family life there, but his baseball life is going to suffer. His (relative) run support will suffer, because while the Astros have a good offense, the Yankees had a great one (they led the AL in road scoring in 2003). And Pettitte's trading a home ballpark that's kind to left-handed pitchers for a home ballpark that's not (though he is a ground-ball pitcher, which will help).
And frankly, Pettitte's not a great pitcher. He was great in 1997 and excellent in 2002 (when he wasn't on the disabled list), but most years he's been merely good. Everyone seems to think the Astros are getting a No. 1 starter, but the reality is that Pettitte is the team's third-best starter, behind Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller.
Why do people think he's a No. 1 starter? Because Pettitte's spent his entire career pitching for the best baseball team in the world, which has meant 1) great run support, and 2) plenty of TV time in October.
Which isn't to say it's a terrible move for the Astros. There's nothing wrong with having a solid No. 3 starter, though $10.5 million per season seems like a lot to spend unless it's the Yankees or the Red Sox doing the spending (and of course, the Yankees offered even more money than the Astros did).
The Yankees will likely be active this weekend in New Orleans. According to the Post, the Yankees have contacted Bernie Williams to inform him that they plan to acquire Kenny Lofton to play in centerfield next season. Gary Sheffield was in San Franciso yesterday along with the brothers Giambi testifying in the BALCO trial. I figure that both Sheffield and Lofton will be wearing Yankee pinstripes by the time Cashman returns from New Orleans.