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01/08/09 6:00 PM EST

Pettitte return to Houston highly unlikely

Despite report of lefty's interest, Astros remain firm on payroll

HOUSTON -- The last time Andy Pettitte was unhappy with the Yankees, he phoned "home" -- home being the Astros -- and struck a tidy three-year deal that lasted from 2004 until '06.

It appears Pettitte is again unhappy with the Yankees, but it's highly unlikely his contempt this time will send him back to his hometown team. A report in Thursday's edition of Newsday suggested that because Pettitte is growing increasingly upset with the negotiations with the Yankees, "the left-hander might be softening on his opposition to rejoining the Astros."

In a different time, this might be good news for Houston, but times are tough and budgets are being whittled down to the bare bones. The Astros have maxed out their payroll at $100 million and aren't planning to add. Pettitte made $16 million in '08 and wants something close to the same this year. The Yankees are offering, depending on which media report is to be believed, either $10 million or $10.5 million.

The math is simple. The Astros don't have money for Ty Wigginton, and the same goes for Randy Wolf. Logic would suggest the same goes for Pettitte, who will be 37 in June and amassed a 14-14 record with a 4.54 ERA in '08.

So while Pettitte may be "softening his stance," the Astros aren't doing the same when it comes to their budget.

Have the Astros reached out to Pettitte? Has Pettitte contacted the Astros?

According to general manager Ed Wade, no and no.

"We haven't had any discussion with Andy or his representatives and we don't see a scenario where he would fit into our payroll scenario at this time," Wade said.

And an e-mail inquiry sent to Pettitte's agent, Randy Hendricks, was not returned.

The Newsday report lays out several reasons why Pettitte is mad at the Yankees: he believes they should show more appreciation after everything he's done for them; the Yankees are spending lavishly on other free agents but not him; and he believes his 2008 season wasn't as bad as the Yankees are making it out to be.

But here is a different list -- one that details why a Pettitte return to Houston is improbable:

• If Pettitte is upset with a perceived lowball offer of a mere $10 million, he probably wouldn't be happy with a fraction of that amount, which still might be too rich for the Astros' cost-conscious blood.

Hot Stove

• If -- just for argument's sake -- the Astros did have more than $10 million laying around to spend, which they don't, they'd probably prefer to spend it on Wolf, who's four years younger than Pettitte and was at his strongest in the final third of the season. Pettitte, by contrast, seemed to tire toward the end of the year.

• Pettitte really doesn't want to be in Houston.

Sure, he enjoyed his time here, and he was one of the most popular teammates to pass through the home clubhouse at Minute Maid Park. He also endeared himself to the fans, media and front office, and he proved to be one of the best big-game pitchers in Astros history, which is what he'll be remembered for, regardless of how ugly his exit was.

But there were hard feelings on both sides the last time Pettitte left, and while he said all the right things when the Yankees were here last June, it was clear Pettitte was all about the Yankees or nothing. It's likely he still feels this way, even though this recent revelation that he may be amenable to returning to Houston -- an innuendo likely planted by his representation -- is likely keeping the lines busy at sports talk radio stations around town.

Pettitte needs leverage, an element essential for any player going through the negotiating process. Pettitte has been casually linked to Joe Torre's Dodgers and was rumored to have been offered three years by an unnamed team, but ultimately, Pettitte wants the Yankees and the Yankees know that. Hence, a drop in leverage.

The Yankees also want Pettitte, and many industry insiders believe the two sides will eventually strike a deal. In the meantime, Pettitte needs options, and that's where the Astros entered the picture, perhaps unwittingly.

Is Pettitte softening his stance? Maybe. But the Astros are maintaining their hard line, which makes a reunion highly unlikely, if not impossible.

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