One of the popular themes during this slow time of the offseason is trying to figure out what happens to the loser of the fifth starter competition. Since most assume that Joba Chamberlain is going to win the job, it means the Yankees must decide what to do with their other young righty, Phil Hughes. I would prefer to see him sent to the bullpen so he can continue to develop against big leaguers while improving the team’s relief corps, but others want him sent to the minors so he can work as a starter and build up his innings. Either way, there’s going to be a point during the season that sending Hughes down to Triple-A Scranton to work on things isn’t going to be as easy as it seems.
As best as I can tell, Hughes still has one of his three option years remaining. He didn’t use one in 2007 because he was on the Major League disabled list after popping his hammy in Texas, and the handful of rehab appearances he made before rejoining the team in August don’t count as an optional assignment. However, the Yanks did burn an option on Hughes in 2008 when they kept him in the minors for about a month after he came back from his rib injury, and they burned another last year when they sent him to Triple-A to start the season. That’s all well and good, but there comes a time in a player’s career when time in the Majors trumps option years.
Whether he has that one option left, or even two or three, at a point early in the 2010 season, the Yankees will be unable to send him to the minors without first passing him through waivers. From Keith Law’s guest post at Baseball Analysts …
There is a rule rarely invoked in baseball that creates a situation where a player who has options remaining still has to clear waivers to be sent on an optional assignment. If the assignment is to begin at least three full calendar years from the date of the player’s first appearance on a 25-man roster, then the player can not be sent on an optional assignment without first clearing major league waivers.
Obviously, KLaw’s article is more than three years old, but I checked the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and the rule is unchanged. As for Hughes, he first appeared on the Yankees’ 25-man roster on April 26th, 2007, the day he made his first big league start against a current teammate at home. So according to this rule, if the Yanks wanted to send Hughes to minors at any point after April 26th of this year, he would first have to clear waivers.
The good news is that these waivers are revocable, so if a team were to claim Hughes, the Yanks could pull him back without a problem. However, Hughes wouldn’t be able to go to the minors since he didn’t clear waivers, and if the Yanks were to place him on waivers again, well those are irrevocable. It’s the same deal as trade waivers in August. First time a player is put on waivers, they’re revocable, but the second time, not so much. So if someone puts in a claim that first time through, the Yankees wouldn’t be able to send Hughes down to the minors the rest of the season because he would surely be plucked off irrevocable waivers, likely by the team with the highest waiver priority. No one in their right mind would risk losing a 23-year-old pitcher like that.
KLaw mentions in the article that players usually clear these revocable waivers without incident, which is good. However the same could be said about trade waivers in August, yet the Yankees went ahead and screwed with the Red Sox (and Mets) by claiming Chris Carter last year. That move forced the Sox to designate another player for assignment a week later, something they surely didn’t want to do. After that episode last year, perhaps the Red Sox brass would look to return the favor (so to speak) by claiming Hughes and ensuring that he’s stuck in the bigs the rest of the year.
The Yanks will face the same issue with Joba Chamberlain this year as well, except his target date is August 7th. In the end, this probably isn’t really a big deal, because chances are the Yanks won’t be sending Hughes or Joba down at any point during the season. But it’s something to keep in mind, because once these two reach their three-year anniversaries, sending them to the minors isn’t going to be as easy as everyone thinks. Like it or not, Phil Hughes is probably in the big leagues to stay after April 26th.
Photo Credit: Tony Dejak, AP