Garner senses Pettitte will play in '07

Garner senses Pettitte will play

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andy Pettitte is leaning toward playing in 2007, a notion first mentioned by manager Phil Garner Tuesday afternoon and later confirmed by Pettitte's agent, Randy Hendricks.

"The trend line is more optimistic [that he'll play]," Hendricks said, adding that Dec. 22 is likely the day Pettitte will make his final decision.

Garner has spoken with Pettitte a few times this offseason, but it was the conversation between the two last week that really piqued the skipper's interest.

"The first few times I talked to him, he wasn't sure he was going to play," Garner said. "He said he was going to make the decision later. The most recent conversation, he was more than leaning, he was really considering coming back and playing. I guess he hadn't made a definitive decision -- 'Yes, I'm definitely coming back to play,' but it was more like, "I'm getting very seriously interested in doing it.'"

Pettitte, 34, began contemplating retirement as early as Spring Training, and much of the Astros' offseason has centered around the to-pitch-or-not-to-pitch saga involving Pettitte, and to a lesser degree Roger Clemens, who likely would pitch a half-season and therefore does not yet factor into the rotation plans.

If Pettitte does decide to pitch, Houston, where he resides year-round, would be his likely destination. But the Yankees have reportedly indicated they too have a spot in their rotation for Pettitte, who pitched in the Bronx for nine years.

One rumor circulating around the Winter Meetings suggested the Yankees had a one-year, $15 million offer on the table. Another published report said the Yankees were closing in on an agreement with Pettitte, and could have something in place by week's end, a claim a source close to Pettitte's camp said has no validity.

Although the Astros are still waiting for Pettitte to give them a definitive answer regarding whether or not he wants to pitch, the two sides have at least had preliminary conversations regarding parameters of a contract.

General manager Tim Purpura is still waiting to meet with the Hendricks brothers, but as of late afternoon on Tuesday, no such meeting had transpired. That doesn't mean the two sides didn't exchange numbers prior to the beginning of the Winter Meetings in Orlando.

"In a general sense, we've talked about the parameters from a financial point of view, but there has been no negotiating," Purpura said. "We've said some things, they've said some things. As you lead into this, you have to talk about some of those issues."

Money is a factor, of course, and Pettitte will likely command more than the $10.5 million he averaged over his recently completed three-year contract. The strength of the team is also a huge issue. The 2006 season marked the first time in Pettitte's 11-year career that his team did not make the playoffs, and while he would never come out and say as much, he was likely as frustrated with the club's anemic offense as the rest of the pitchers who received little to no run support on a fairly regular basis.

The addition of Carlos Lee is expected to somewhat remedy the Astros' offensive problems of the past two years, and that could sway Pettitte to return. The addition of veteran Woody Williams to the starting staff also doesn't hurt the cause.

"One of the things we've heard from the Hendricks brothers regarding our club from both Roger and Andy's point of view is the offense," Purpura said. "I think we've addressed that in a very significant way. That was our No. 1 priority that we set and we have achieved.

"Do we have some other pieces that we need to fit together? Absolutely. We've got work to be done. But to get a player like Carlos Lee and make the kind of committment that we have is absolutely a huge piece of the puzzle and quite frankly, in some of the conversations we've had with free agents who are starters, that's come up time and time again ... about having that kind of protection in the middle of the order. That run-producing ability is very attractive to some of the free agents that are out there right now."

As for the club's non-Pettitte business at the Winter Meetings, Purpura talked to a lot of clubs on Tuesday and said things are "percolating," but had nothing to report regarding deals that could be imminent. Purpura continues to search for a starting pitcher and possibly a left-handed reliever or utility man.

"We're continuing the process," Purprua said. "Sometimes you think you're getting a little close and things don't turn out the way you'd like. We're working on a lot of different fronts. It's like anything else. One or two phone calls and it could be 'imminent.' But we don't have anthing we're close on."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.