In the finale of his fifth starter series, Mike listed a number of good reasons why Phil Hughes should start the season in the rotation. He probably has a stronger case than both A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia if we consider only the role of fifth starter. This competition, though, is about more than just a single role on the starting staff. It’s about maximizing resources. The Yankees have three pitchers capable of handling that role. Their task is to figure out how to use all three to realize peak value.
In terms of flexibility, Hughes offers the Yankees more than both Garcia and Burnett. He has roughly 10 times the number of innings in relief than Garcia and Burnett combined, and he has fared extremely well in that role. Through 56.1 innings across 49 appearances, Hughes has produced the following numbers:
Even if we regressed these numbers a bit, since Hughes hasn’t pitched the equivalent of a full season in the bullpen, he’d still come out looking like a setup man at worst. While he might produce the most overall value in a starting role, the Yankees as a team might better deploy their resources, at least in terms of 2012, by using Hughes in the bullpen and one of Burnett and Garcia as the fifth starter. Combined with Hughes’s spotty track record as a starter and the Yankees’ depth in terms of back of the rotation pitchers, they could certainly choose to move Hughes now.
Hughes could also provide value to the Yankees via trade. Considering his age and salary, they could certainly get more in return for Hughes than they could for Burnett or Garcia. If they’re looking for a player they could use as the primary DH in 2012, and perhaps as an outfielder or DH in the future, they could use Hughes as trade bait.
The issue here is that Hughes is at the nadir of his value. In the early years he retained top prospect status, even though his performance disappointed. Even after 2010, despite his rough finish, he had more value than he does now. While the Yankees might be able to obtain a worthwhile player in exchange for Hughes, it’s still not good business to sell low on a relatively young player.
Looking around the league, though, there don’t seem to be many players available who 1) could help the Yankees’ current situation, and 2) cost little more than Hughes and a mid-level prospect. Teams do place their own values on players, so perhaps there is a match somewhere out there. But taking what we know, any match appears rough. Perhaps a reclamation project could make sense, but it’s hard to see the Yankees getting a legitimate bat in exchange for Hughes by himself.
While Hughes does present a solid case to take over the fifth starter job, the Yankees as a team might benefit more by using him in another role. He has a far better bullpen track record than Burnett and Garcia, and has more value to other teams in a trade. This could lead the Yankees to use him in one of those two capacities, while trotting out Burnett or Garcia every five days. It might not be an ideal situation, but it’s the one they have right now. As we’ve said since the Pineda trade and the Kuroda signing, it’s the best of problems to have.