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Pettitte declines return to Yankees, may retire

Andy Pettitte declined his $16 million option to return to the New York Yankees, still uncertain whether he wants to pitch next season.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Andy Pettitte declined his $16 million option with the New York Yankees, still uncertain whether he wants to pitch next season.

“I have spoken with Brian Cashman, who has reiterated what Hank Steinbrenner said about the Yankees wanting to give Andy all the time he needs to decide about next season,” Pettitte’s agent, Randy Hendricks, said Monday in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Accordingly, we are declining to exercise the option for 2008 and Andy will declare free agency in order to free up a roster spot for the Yankees.

“If Andy decides to play, I am confident we can reach an agreement with the Yankees within 24 hours. The only options, as Andy has stated, are the Yankees or retirement. He appreciates the Yankees’ willingness to give him the time he feels he needs. I do not expect him to make a decision for quite some time.”

The 35-year-old left-hander went 15-9 with a 4.05 ERA for the Yankees this year, including 11-3 after the All-Star break. He was their most effective starter in the postseason, pitching 6 1-3 scoreless innings in Game 2 of New York’s first-round loss to Cleveland.

Pettitte had until Wednesday to decide on his option, part of the contract he agreed to last December when he returned to the Yankees after three seasons with his hometown Houston Astros. That deal paid him a $16 million salary this year.

“Obviously, we want Andy to stay with the Yanks and pitch for us in ’08. In fact, I’d say I need him to,” said Cashman, the team’s general manager. “He’s an important piece for us. ... We’re hopeful that at some point that the marriage of the Pettittes and the Yankees can continue.”

Last month, Pettitte said he wasn’t sure whether he would play again, saying he had to relax and discuss the matter with his family.

“I wouldn’t have ever imagined my arm feeling as good as it has,” he said. “I’m just very, very blessed, feel very blessed that my arm has held up and I felt strong all year. I haven’t had any problems with my elbow this year.”

New York is in a state of flux. Manager Joe Torre left after 12 seasons when the team offered him a paycut, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez chose to terminate his record $252 million, 10-year contract with three seasons remaining and become a free agent. The Yankees have said they won’t negotiate with A-Rod now that he’s opted out.

New York is attempting to re-sign closer Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada, who both became free agents.

Cashman said Pettitte called him and they spoke for 10-20 minutes. Pettitte has a standing offer of $16 million he can accept at any time. Cashman wouldn’t discuss whether the team would entertain a new deal.

“He told me specifically this is not about waiting to see what kind of club we have on the field and anything regarding the manager,” Cashman said. “He’s earned the right to take some more time, as far as we’re concerned.”

Without Pettitte, new Yankees manager Joe Girardi would have a projected rotation that includes 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang, who lost twice to Cleveland in the playoffs; Mike Mussina, who will be 39 next month; and youngsters Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy.

On another front, Cashman said he will use this week’s GM meetings to explore options for replacing Rodriguez at third base.

“It’s time to start scoping out all our needs,” he said. “Third is one of them. That’s not going to develop all that quickly.”