LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Yankees' search for a starting pitcher that will keep them from having to bank on a healthy Carl Pavano and Randy Johnson is narrowing. As Vicente Padilla came off the free-agent board, Ted Lilly and Barry Zito get little more than cursory interest from New York and Jason Schmidt still doesn't see East Coast dollars to override his West Coast preference, the Yankees have found the ideal solution: Andy Pettitte.
The free-agent left-hander, who is strongly considering retirement, is said to be intrigued with the idea of returning to pinstripes and "could possibly have a deal by the end of the week" with New York, according to a baseball source familiar with the negotiations.
The Yankees are willing to wait as long as necessary for Pettitte, whose original timetable was to defer a decision on 2007 until later this month. Pettitte is the club's No. 1 option because the former Yankee is New York-proven, is left-handed (possibly joining Johnson and Kei Igawa to give them three lefties in the rotation), does not require a lengthy term to his contract and is coming off an impressive second half of 2006.
In this market, the Yankees would do well to get Pettitte at two years and about $26 million. At 34, he's just seven months older than the more expensive Schmidt.
Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina would give the Yankees a solid front three, leaving Johnson, who is recovering from back surgery, Pavano, Igawa, Darrell Rasner, Jeff Karstens and in-season callup Philip Hughes as a comfortable inventory of pitchers to fill the other 66 or so starts. It also would keep the valuable Scott Proctor in the bullpen. In the meantime, as a fallback position only, the Yankees have told Proctor to prepare for Spring Training as a starter.
Pettitte has been considering retirement ever since he felt physically and mentally spent after a season during which he churned out 214 1/3 innings while working through elbow pain. But his 2.80 ERA after the All-Star break was the eighth best in baseball, the third-best among all left-handers (trailing only Johan Santana and Jeremy Sowers).
Pettitte is intrigued about ending his career where it began and returning to a more intense environment than he found in Houston. With 186 career wins, he also would have the chance of winning his 200th game. Only three left-handers in history have won 200 games with a better winning percentage than Pettitte's .641, and all of them are current or future Hall of Famers: Whitey Ford, Lefty Grove and Johnson.