The Pettitte Proposition

Andy Pettitte deserves more than take it or leave it
01/13/2009 2:54 PM ET
By Jerome Preisler / Special to

Some writers have suggested Andy Pettitte won't be a "real" Yankee if he signs elsewhere. That, writes Jerome Preisler, isn't fair. (AP)
He has a lifetime earned run average of 3.89 in 14 seasons as a Major League pitcher, all but three of which have been with the New York Yankees in the American League East. His win/loss record over his regular season career is 215-127 for a .629 winning percentage — in fact, he's never had a losing season in his career. He's gone 18-7 in 35 postseason starts, with 13 of those playoff and World Series victories having been earned with the Yanks.

These are some of Andy Pettitte's bare, impressive numbers. Yet a large segment of the New York sports media, many Yankee fans, and reportedly the Yankee front office, seemingly want him to accept, without compromise, the one-year, $10-million the Yanks have offered him to return in to the team in 2009, down $6 million from his previous annual pay. Moreover, the overwhelming — or at least very loud — sentiment among sports writers and yakkers is that Pettitte's core Yankee-ness rests with his ultimate decision. Sure, they say, Andy Pettitte's free to take it or leave it. But if he wants to be a Yankee, a real Yankee, he'd darn well better take it, or his legacy in pinstripes will be blemished for eternity.

The language has been extraordinarily harsh. In a recent blog entry, the New York Post's Joel Sherman laid out this or else scenario:

"If Pettitte signs elsewhere, regardless of the dollar figure, he should be viewed as a world-class phony forever around here. There should be no more pardons. He should receive no invites to future Old-Timers games, hear no cheers when the dynastic teams reassemble."

As if to underscore his point, Sherman concluded his entry with this bit of business advice for the Yankees:

"It should be made clear to [Pettitte] that if he walks out on the Yankees now then he is done with the organization forever."

Beat writer Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News was a bit gentler in his pre-sentencing comments ... err, I mean, his blog ... stating:

"I like Pettitte, and I believe he has been a legendary Yankee who played a major part in the four World Series titles. He has always treated his teammates, the writers and — most importantly — the fans with respect."

But being a winner, and respectful only counts for so much with Feinsand, who went on to write:

" . . . this latest chapter in Pettitte's Yankees career has put a black mark on his pinstriped legacy, even more than last year's HGH admission did . . . . Now, after listening to Pettitte tell everyone who would listen all year that he wants to pitch for the Yankees — that it wasn't going to be about the money — it turns out that it's all about the money."

Wow. Pretty hard-edged stuff there.

Disingenuous, too.

Both writers point out — doubtless accurately — that Pettitte had strongly indicated a cut in pay would not come between him and the Yanks in 2009, and that Pettitte's loyalty to the team and desire to pitch in the new Yankee Stadium rated higher in his priorities than dollar amounts.

However, I don't remember a single quote from Pettitte suggesting that any offer would be fine and dandy with him, or that he'd remotely anticipated an almost 1/3 salary reduction from what he earned in 2008.

Those who believe Pettitte has a kind of moral obligation to accept the Yankees' offer — which Sherman now says has been lowered from the original $10 mil they put on the table — are quick to support their contention by citing his poor finish last year. And the truth is that Pettitte did not end the season well, suffering from physical problems and going 2-7 with a 6.23 ERA in his last nine starts for an overall 14-14 record.

But his disappointing finish can be viewed in an alternate light — namely with an acknowledgment that Pettitte gutted out a stretch during which he arguably should have been on the disabled list, and did so because the Yankees, clinging desperately to its postseason hopes, had only one other reliable starter in Mike Mussina.

Or to put it another way: Pettitte took one for the team when he could have easily sat things out.

Look at it however you want, it isn't for Sherman, Feinsand, or anyone besides Pettitte, his agents, and his family, to decide what constitutes an acceptable offer from the Yankees or reduce Pettitte's obvious unhappiness with it to dollars and cents. In business, the amount of one's pay is a measure of his or her value — or perceived value — to an organization. Pettitte obviously feels undervalued, and thus underappreciated, by the Yanks. And he might just have good reason.

As I recently told a friend, take-it-or-leave-it offers stink. They engender resentment in the recipient, even if the money seems outwardly fair. I've been hit with many such offers in my writing career, and they never sit well with me, because there's something inherently haughty and even disrespectful about them.

Right around when I was making my first book sales around 20 years ago, somebody gave me a set of instructional videos by a self-styled master negotiator from Australia. His basic spiel was that a successful negotiation leaves all parties at the table satisfied ... and that satisfaction is achieved through compromise.

The Master Negotiator's philosophy was valid from my perspective, but I soon learned that it wasn't always applicable in real-world situations. In my experience, publishers don't care whether or not writers feel good — or for that matter, if they have roofs over their heads or starve to death on the street. Their objective in acquiring a manuscript is to get away with paying them as little as possible for it ... and that, folks, can be a pittance indeed. For a writer, leverage is difficult to come by, and often only comes after you've had at least one significantly profitable book on the stands or gained a bidding interest in your new work from multiple publishers. There's very little else that can work to in your favor to effect a fair compromise from a publisher.

If you're a writer without a track record — or sometimes even with one — you're often in a position where you have to take the money or walk. Taking it doesn't mean you're satisfied or even that you feel respected. It means you realize that every door that closes can be the last one. You accept the offer essentially because you have no other choice ... unless you're prepared to seek another trade.

Granted, I've never been offered anything remotely approaching $10 mil ... but pride can't be calculated in dollar amounts, and by all accounts Andy Pettitte is a proud man — one I presume doesn't need the money to pay his mortgage and provide for his family.

Getting back to baseball, and specifically the Yankees, let's examine how some of their more recent and notable take-it-or-leave it offers were met . . . by their recipients and the press.

• Soon after the 2002 season ended, it was widely reported that the Yankees extended offers of two years for $5 million to their stalwart reliever Mike Stanton, left-hander Chris Hammond of the Atlanta Braves, and another lefty reliever, Mark Guthrie, a journeyman who'd pitched well for the Mets in '02. The pitchers were given 15 minutes to make their decisions. The first to accept would get the job.

Stanton balked. On the tail of a three-year, $7.35 million contract, he'd spent six years as workhorse in the Yankees' bullpen, contributing to three World Series championships. The year before, the Yankees had signed reliever Steve Karsay to a four-year contract averaging over $5.5 million annually. According to newspaper accounts, Stanton was so angered by the manner in which the offer was presented that he did not respond to it. He wound up pitching for the Mets in 2003, and the Yanks were roundly criticized by the media for their handling of the situation.

• In 2003, Andy Pettitte finished the regular season 21-8 with a 4.02 earned run average. He went 3-1 with a 2.10 ERA in five postseason starts, losing only Game 6 of the World Series to Josh Beckett, who threw a complete-game shutout to defeat the Yankees by a score of 2-0 and clinch the series for the Florida Marlins. Following that World Series loss, the Yankees allowed their 15-day exclusive negotiating window with Pettitte to pass without an offer, essentially releasing him to the free agent market. Courted by the Boston Red Sox, Pettitte declined an offer from them said to have been in the neighborhood of $50 million because he could not see himself pitching for the Yankees' archrival.

Although the Yankees and Pettitte's family gave slightly different versions of what happened afterward, it's known that the Yanks waited until December before presenting him with a three-year offer of about $30 million that was closely matched by the Houston Astros. While it isn't altogether clear if this was a non-negotiable offer, there's no disputing that it came after a long delay — and that the Yankees did not significantly increase their final dollar figures over Houston's. Pettitte would spend the next three years in Texas pitching for the Astros, while the Yankees again drew broad criticism for failing to initiate a timely give-and-take with the Pettitte camp.

• And then there's the case of Joe Torre, who won more games than any other manager in postseason history. After the Yankees' first-round ouster from the playoffs in 2007, Torre, up for a new contract, was reportedly offered a take-it-or-leave-it, one-year, $5 million deal by the team. This represented a cut from his previous annual wage of $7.5 million, although it included incentives that potentially could have brought his yearly earnings up to $8 million. Torre publicly expressed his unhappiness with the offer and, as everyone knows, rejected it, ending his 12-year tenure as Yankee manager. He would later accept a three-year, $13 million contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers — earning less per annum than he would have even with his proposed base pay from the Yanks.

It's at least arguable that the time had come for a managerial change in the Bronx, but that's beside the point. What's of greater significance is that the Yankee front office insisted they wanted Torre back . . . and that the evidence suggests Torre's rebuff was based not on money, but wounded pride.

Okay. Having examined several negotiations the press and fans generally view as having been mishandled by the Yankees, let's look at one that worked out well — for them and the player involved.

In 2006, after the final season of Mike Mussina's $88.5 million, six-year deal with the Yankees, the team declined its $17 million option on the 38-year-old pitcher. Mussina received a $1.5 million contractual buyout, with both sides quickly indicating a willingness to discuss a shorter-term, and less expensive, contract extension. In mid-November, Mussina announced that he'd reached terms with the Yankees on a $22.5 million, two-year deal — or a $24 million total package including the buyout — that took him up to the end of his career.

Despite struggling in 2007, Mussina won 20 games in 2008, when he was undeniably the most reliable pitcher in the Yanks' starting rotation, and in the opinion of many (including Yours Truly) became the team MVP. The Yanks-Mussina negotiations benefited both sides. They undoubtedly would have pleased the super dealmaker from kangaroo country whose videos I watched back at the start of my career. Perhaps learning from their earlier mistake with Pettitte, the Yankees moved to conduct their discussions with Mussina and his agent in an open and expeditious manner — and were rewarded for their willingness to be flexible with him.

As Andy Pettitte's future with the Yankees becomes increasingly uncertain, they need to once again remember past blunders and take pains not to repeat them. The Mussina negotiations should stand as a model of fairness and compromise. Attempting to dictate terms to Pettitte will lead to nothing but hard feelings and vacancy in a rotation that the team has worked hard, and spent much this offseason, to solidify.

Simply put: The Yanks need to come up from $10 mil, and Pettitte come down from $16 mil. If that's done, I'm betting he's in pinstripes at the start of the 2009 season.

And that everybody's happier for it.

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Jerome Preisler has written more than 25 books of fiction and nonfiction, including all eight novels in the No. 1 New York Times best-selling TOM CLANCY'S POWER PLAYS series. Jerome's (with Kenneth Sewell) work of narrative history ALL HANDS DOWN: The True Story of the Soviet Attack on the USS Scorpion, was published in hardcover by Simon and Schuster in April, 2008. With his wife, Suzanne, Jerome is the pseudonymous co-author of three comedic mysteries, SCENE OF THE GRIME and the forthcoming (July '08) DIRTY DEEDS and NOTORIOUSLY NEAT from Signet/Obsidian. His original novel, CSI: NEVADA ROSE, based on the hit TV series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, was released by Pocket Books in July '08. comments