NEW YORK (AP) – Andy Pettitte is headed back to the New York Yankees. Could Roger Clemens be next?

Pettitte and the Yankees reached a preliminary agreement Friday on a $16 million, one-year contract, a deal that reunites the two-time All-Star with the team he helped to win four World Series titles.

“Roger has yet to decide what he wants to do,” Randy Hendricks, the agent for both pitchers, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “He has, however, followed the events with Andy and the Astros very carefully.”

Pettitte’s deal with the Yankees includes a $16 million player option for 2008. His agent, Randy Hendricks, said Pettitte would not exercise the option if he were hurt and unable to play.

Pettitte must pass a physical for the agreement to be finalized. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed the preliminary agreement but declined further comment.

When Pettitte left the Yankees after the 2003 season to sign with his hometown Astros, he felt unwanted by New York. This time, he felt unappreciated by Houston.

“We told the Astros we would do the same deal at $14 million,” Hendricks said. “They have been stuck on $12 (million) and essentially said, ‘Take it or leave it.”‘

Astros general manager Tim Purpura wouldn’t get into numbers but said Pettitte’s side made a late request for an option year, which was a deal breaker for Houston.

“When things really changed for us was Wednesday,” Purpura said. “The adding of the second year was too wide a gulf for us.”

A day earlier, Houston was on the verge of obtaining pitcher Jon Garland from the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Willy Taveras, pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh. But the deal wasn’t announced, perhaps because Chicago didn’t like Buchholz’s medical reports.

“The aborted Garland trade proves they had no intention of increasing their offer, so there was nothing more to wait for except a decision by Andy, which he made this afternoon,” Hendricks said.

The 34-year-old Pettitte pitched for the Yankees from 1995-2003 and went 13-8 for them in postseason play. The lefty spent the last three years in Houston and, joined by Clemens, helped the Astros reach the World Series for the first time in 2005.

Clemens said he would retire after the 2003 season, but Pettitte’s decision to join the Astros caused the Rocket to sign with Houston, too. Clemens thought about retirement again after 2004 and 2005, but rejoined the Astros both times.

Purpura said Houston will look elsewhere for starting pitching.

“It’s a disappointment certainly,” Purpura said. “We wanted to have Andy back, but it just didn’t come to pass . . . That being said, though, we’re being very active on the trade front and on the free-agent front.”

Pettitte was 14-13 with a 4.20 ERA last season and joins a Yankees rotation that includes Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson. Carl Pavano, sidelined by injuries for 11/2 seasons, hopes to return next year, and the Yankees also have the rights to sign Japanese left-hander Kei Igawa. The Yankees have not made it back to the World Series since Pettitte left, plagued by inconsistent pitching, especially in the postseason.

The two-time All-Star’s return to the Yankees reunites him with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and possibly Bernie Williams.

Notes: Houston was close to agreement on a $545,000, one-year contract with RHP Brandon Backe, who had elbow ligament replacement surgery in September and might miss the season while he recovers.



Associated Press Writer Joe Stinebaker in Houston contributed to this report.

AP-ES-12-08-06 1859EST


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