New York Yankees pitcher andy pettitte in the dugout during...

New York Yankees pitcher andy pettitte in the dugout during his game against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium. (Sept. 1, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

When Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies in December, Andy Pettitte felt "a tremendous amount of pressure" to pitch for the 2011 Yankees, the retiring Core Four member said Friday, to make his original team more competitive.

Alas, by officially retiring, he essentially took that pressure and forwarded it, as if it were an e-mail with which he couldn't be bothered. The recipients: Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman.

It's up to Girardi to get the most out of the arms Cashman has given him. It's up to Cashman to get Girardi more arms.

At stake is a World Series title and, to be more precise, a playoff berth. Most intelligent Yankees fans would rather see the team miss the postseason (while developing minor-leaguers) than make an ill-advised, short-sighted acquisition, but ownership continues to ignore that segment. So the heat will be on.

"Patience is Plan B," Cashman said at Yankee Stadium, reiterating his favorite mantra of the offseason. "I'll get it fixed on my end and hopefully give people a different perspective. There's an ebb and flow to this stuff."

"It's not as etched in stone as it would've been if Andy Pettitte had come back," the typically vanilla Girardi said. "But I believe there's enough talent in that room to get it done."

In his three years running the Yankees, Girardi has exhibited a mostly good sense of how to run a pitching staff, with the very notable exception being The Great Joba Chamberlain Implosion of 2009. His new pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, is regarded as one of the game's best, although it must be noted that Dave Eiland lost his job because of off-field discipline rather than on-field performance.

With Pettitte gone and Lee never here, the Yankees are decided underdogs to the Red Sox when you compare the rotations and their track records and projections; the Yankees have a slight edge in the lineup and a bigger one in the bullpen.

I asked Girardi, who brought elite runner Michael Johnson to last year's spring training camp to discuss the dangers of complacency, whether he'd try to motivate his guys with the underdog story line.

"I think every time you step on the field, there's enough motivation where I'm not going to have to use that," Girardi said. "As far as a favorite, I've heard people talk about other clubs being favored. The Red Sox have said that we're still the favorite. You've got to go out and play the games."

Sure you do, and hey, if Freddy Garcia could duplicate what he gave the White Sox last year, that wouldn't hurt. Maybe Bartolo Colon can contribute a good two or three starts before his inevitable release. Kevin Millwood could arrive if he drops his asking price, and Jeremy Bonderman, too.

Girardi mentioned Ivan Nova, and he obviously is crucial, the one major league-ready pitcher with some upside.

Ultimately, however, it's hard to envision this group capturing even the American League wild card. Enter Cashman, who has both the prospect base and the industry relationships to get a deal done in July.

Yet what if this imperfect storm - the failures to sign Lee or Pettitte and the lack of viable backup plans - carries into the regular season? What if this is the rare season in which no frontline starting pitchers emerge on the trade market, and none of the Yankees' promising youngsters proves ready to leap to the majors?

The Yankees will deal with that scenario if it arrives. No reason to fear the worst possibilities. If they want to get depressed, they can just look at their reality.

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