Andy Pettitte will wind up playing for the New York Rangers before he plays for the Texas Rangers.
That is the belief of the Yankees' front office, which is treating a report in Tuesday's editions of the New York Daily News that Pettitte had received a feeler from Rangers president Nolan Ryan as a "total [bleeping] joke."
The report, since denied by Ryan to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, drew an irate reaction from a member of the Yankees' hierarchy, who requested anonymity for fear of alienating Pettitte, who, the source said, has yet to inform the Yankees whether he will pitch in 2011.
"Pettitte's gonna pitch here or he's gonna pitch nowhere," said the source, who speculated that someone in the Rangers' organization might have put out the report "to push us back on Cliff Lee."
The Yankees and Rangers are two of several clubs interested in acquiring Lee, who pitched for Texas last season and is the most sought-after free agent on the market.
After the Yankees were eliminated from the ALCS in six games by the Rangers in late October, Pettitte expressed uncertainty about coming back for another season in what has become an annual postseason ritual for him.
Pettitte, 38, got off to the best start of his career in 2010, 11-2 with a 2.38 ERA, before a July 18 groin strain derailed his season. He did not return for two months, but pitched well in his two postseason appearances, beating the Twins in the ALDS and losing to Lee in Game 3 despite allowing just two runs in seven innings.
Pettitte has won more postseason games (19) than any pitcher in baseball history, as well as making the most postseason starts (42) and pitching the most postseason innings (263).
But he has repeatedly emphasized how difficult it is to be away from his wife, Laura, and their four children during the season, and has been known to fly home to Houston on off days.
"It's getting very hard to be away from them," Pettitte said in the Yankees' clubhouse after the final game of the ALCS. "And it's a long flight home."
Playing for the Rangers would alleviate that problem for Pettitte, but only slightly. Dallas and Houston are 240 miles apart, a four-hour ride by car or a one-hour plane flight.