General manager Brian Cashman said on Tuesday that the team is taking Pettitte seriously after he told the Yankees not to count on him, as the 38-year-old considers walking away from the game to spend more time with his family.
"Right now, Andy is leaning toward retirement," Cashman said. "He has not currently decided he wants to pursue playing next year. He wanted to make sure that we were not being held up. We need to do our business as though he's not playing."
Pettitte has largely remained silent this offseason and has not commented publicly in recent weeks -- a stage that included the Yankees missing out on their top target, Cliff Lee, who signed with the Phillies.
Cashman said that nothing has changed with Pettitte's situation.
"There's no official announcement that he's retired, but I can tell you he's not officially in play," Cashman said.
"We're obviously focused on the available markets to us and those players on the free-agent market and trade market that will be available. Andy currently is not one of those guys. If he chooses to be, obviously he knows we'd love to talk to him."
The Yankees would welcome back Pettitte with open arms, considering their pitching outlook. After putting all their eggs into the Lee basket, the Yankees are left with only CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes as rotation locks.
If spring arrived today, New York would head into camp with a group of largely unpredictable candidates to round out the rotation, headlined by Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre and followed by less likely choices among Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Hector Noesi and Manny Banuelos.
Cashman said that the preference would not be to head to Tampa without adding more talent to that group, but said that it is "certainly possible," noting that pitchers could be acquired in-season as well.
"The bottom line is, there's a price to pay for waiting for Cliff Lee," Cashman said. "Now, part of that price is definitely going to be the loss of previous opportunities existing, and at the same time, now it's going to have to be some patience."
Regarding the free-agent and trade fronts, there does not appear to be anything hot on the Yankees' radar. They are known to have sniffed around free agent Freddy Garcia, but are not thought to be interested in free agent Brandon Webb.
"There's not much available, to be quite honest," Cashman said. "But if something is there for the taking that we like and we can match up with, we'll strike.
"... There might be some things that emerge over time that aren't available at this moment. We've got a lot of time, but the markets are not the same as they were a month ago. That's the difficult thing."
The situation increases the importance of getting a bounce-back year from A.J. Burnett, who is entering the third year of a five-year, $82.5 million deal.
Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA last year and plans to meet with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild in January to work on his mechanics. Burnett has converted a barn at his Maryland residence into an indoor pitching facility.
"We signed A.J. not to pitch toward the back of the rotation, to be a front-of-the-rotation starter," Cashman said. "That's what his abilities are, that's what he's capable of doing. That's what we expect.
"I believe you'll see that again, but that means a lot of hard work. I know he's up for it. I've talked to A.J. several times now and met with him in person in Maryland. He knows the responsibility he has to us and this fan base. He's committed."
In assembling the rotation for 2011, one avenue Cashman emphatically ruled out is moving Joba Chamberlain -- again -- from the bullpen to the rotation. When a reporter brought up the idea, Cashman quipped, "Bite your tongue."
"His stuff plays so much more significantly out of the 'pen," Cashman later explained. "We've given him the opportunity to show what he can do out of the rotation, and the velocity dropped. It's just not the same stuff."
Cashman said the Yankees' other targets include a right-handed reliever as well as a right-handed-hitting outfielder for the bench, plus a utility infielder. But gathering arms will remain the focus.
"The most important area is pitching, whether it's the rotation or the bullpen," he said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.