Astros decided to let Pettitte walk over $2 million

What just happened here?

How did the Astros lose Andy Pettitte to the Yankees over a measly couple of million bucks?

Before Pettitte accepted the Yankees' offer, sources familiar with the negotiations told me he gave the Astros a chance to keep him for $2 million a year less than the Yankees will pay him. But Houston wouldn't increase its offer of $12 million a year.

Why? Good question. The buzz around baseball is that MLB officials -- particularly commissioner Bud Selig -- weren't happy with the Astros for giving $100 million over six years to free agent Carlos Lee. So owner Drayton McLane might be trying to placate MLB's hard-liners by attempting to hold down the rest of his payroll.

The Astros tried to trade for White Sox starter Jon Garland (and others) at the winter meetings. And they were telling other clubs they needed to be proactive this winter after having their previous two offseasons paralyzed by uncertainty over whether they could re-sign free agents Carlos Beltran and Roger Clemens.

But it was one thing to pursue other pitchers in case they couldn't sign Pettitte. It's a whole different matter to see them turning down his offer to return for less money than he could have got in New York.

Now the Astros will just about be forced to trade for another veteran starter. But at what cost?

It's believed they were offering two of their most highly regarded young pitchers, Jason Hirsch and Taylor Buchholz, in the Garland deal. So officials of other teams were having a tough time Friday understanding why they chose to lose a hometown hero like Pettitte over $2 million -- especially when the alternative means dealing away their best prospects.

And there is one other potential ripple effect: This development makes it more likely that if Pettitte's buddy Clemens makes another midseason comeback, he will return to pitch for the Yankees, not the Astros.

Pettitte and Clemens share the same agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks. And word this week at the winter meetings was that the Pettitte negotiations might have strained the long-harmonious relationship between the Astros and the Hendricks brothers, who live in Houston.

Last summer, Clemens got down to either the Astros or Red Sox. But if the Red Sox sign Daisuke Matsuzaka, there would be no obvious rotation vacancy for Clemens. So the Astros might need to do some significant damage control if they want to avoid losing Clemens, too.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.