Phil Hughes, a contract extension, and 2014

Angels land Josh Hamilton
Sherman: Yankees will need to go two years to re-sign Ichiro
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Yankees are trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014 and are therefore fixated on signing free agents to one-year contracts this offseason. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte will have to be replaced next winter, and so will Phil Hughes. The 26-year-old right-hander is due to hit free agency next offseason, when he’ll be the only starting pitcher on the market on the right side of 30. If he has a good (not even great) walk year, Hughes will get paid handsomely on the open market.

As you know, team policy is to not negotiate a new contract until the current one expires. The Yankees broke that policy to sign Robinson Cano long-term back in 2008, and they were willing to break it again last offseason by offering Russell Martin a three-year pact. Hughes, who has been inconsistent and hurt and homer-prone during his time as a big league starter, doesn’t jump out as someone the club could look to extend before he hits the open market. Given the uncertain futures of Michael Pineda (shoulder) and Ivan Nova (terrible 2012) and Phil’s relative youth, perhaps they should.

Most starting pitchers who get to within one year of free agency do not sign contract extensions. The most notable exceptions are high-end pitchers like Cole Hamels (six years, $144M) and Jered Weaver (five years, $85M) or older guys who just had their first taste of success like Ryan Vogelsong (two years, $8.3M) and R.A. Dickey (two years, $7.5M). Hughes is somewhere in the middle, which leaves us short on contract comparables. With some help from MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, here are the only two starters remotely comparable to Hughes who have recently signed extensions one year prior to qualifying for free agency.

Joe Blanton Wandy Rodriguez Hughes
Previous Three Years fWAR 9.7 10.3 5.0
Previous Three Years bWAR 2.5 8.5 3.1
Previous Three Years RA9 10.6 10 5.3
Platform Year fWAR 2.0 3.7 1.9
Platform Year bWAR 2.4 2.3 1.5
Platform Year RA9 3.5 2.1 2.2
Contract Years 3 3 ?
Contract Dollars $24M $34M ?

WAR is far from perfect but I’m going to use it here just as quick tool for comparison. I prefer bWAR and RA9 (more on that here) myself because they are runs allowed-based and not peripheral-based like fWAR. Ultimately I think a pitcher should be judged by how well he keeps runs off the board regardless of how he does it. We can then use things like strikeout and ground ball rates to look at how sustainable a performance is in a separate analysis. A pitcher is only as valuable as the runs he prevents. Anyway, all three WAR versions are presented here.

The current version of Hughes lags behind Blanton and Wandy at the time of their extensions mostly because of his lost season in 2011. Had he managed a full healthy season, his numbers would be much more comparable but probably still a little short. The necessary adjustments for ballpark and league and all that are built into the stats, so Phil shouldn’t get any extra credit for pitching in the AL East. He doesn’t have any 200+ inning seasons to his credit, but he is younger than those two at the time of their contracts (several years younger than Wandy).

Blanton signed his deal prior to 2010 while Wandy signed his prior to 2011, so we do have to consider inflation. The spending caps applied to the draft and international markets basically force teams to put money into the big league roster, and as a result free agent prices have climbed this winter. Not necessarily salaries, but everyone seems to be getting that one extra year. Hughes is in a unique spot given his age in that he probably wouldn’t want a long-term contract. A shorter term deal, like the three years Blanton and Wandy received, would still allow him to still hit free agency before his 30th birthday.

My concern about signing Hughes long-term is the homers. He pitched to a 1.6 HR/9 this year and 1.3 HR/9 over the last three years, which is astronomical in these offense-suppressed times. Since we’re talking about locking him up for another three years, here’s the list of pitchers to post both a 1.3 HR/9 and an above-average ERA during their age 27-29 seasons over the last 25 years.

Rk Player ERA+ HR/9 IP G GS ERA OPS+
1 Tim Wakefield 121 1.33 407.0 59 59 4.09 90
2 Rick Helling 109 1.34 652.2 103 103 4.58 96
3 Ramon Ortiz 107 1.39 537.1 82 82 4.27 95
4 Brian Anderson 104 1.53 476.2 93 73 4.51 101
5 Ted Lilly 101 1.31 502.0 89 88 4.54 93
6 James Baldwin 101 1.52 552.1 93 89 4.74 104
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/13/2012.

There are a handful of pitchers within five percentage points of a league average ERA (Sterling Hitchcock and Javy Vazquez being the most notable), but that’s the list. Obviously we should ignore Wakefield because he’s a knuckleballer, but the rest of those guys were nondescript mid-rotation arms who were more about bulk innings than high-quality innings. They were all considered top pitching prospects once upon a time as well (all made at least one Baseball America Top 100 Prospects List), so Hughes isn’t unique in that regard.

Can Hughes improve his homer-prone ways? Of course, but it would be a very risky assumption. The Blanton and Wandy contracts suggest he would be in line for a three-year deal worth $24-30M if he signed an extension this offseason, an $8-10M average annual value for luxury tax purposes. Hughes is projected to earn $5.7M through arbitration this winter, so he’d be signing away two free agent years for a guaranteed $18.3-24.3M. Assuming Phil repeats his 2012 season in 2013, I don’t think an AL East proven 27-year-old starter would have much trouble fetching $9M+ annually on the open market. Shouldn’t have much trouble at all.

The Yankees are projected to have something like $80-90M coming off the books next offseason, but only $50-60M of that will be reinvested in the team given the 2014 payroll plan. A big chunk of that money is going to Robinson Cano, so it’s really like $30M or so address the rest of the team, including potentially three rotation spots. Pineda recovering well from shoulder surgery and Nova putting together a strong season would make life a lot easier, but those are far from guarantees. Committing $8-10M in 2014 dollars to Hughes right now isn’t the smartest move with regards to the payroll plan, but the Yankees would always have the option of trading him down the line.

Angels land Josh Hamilton
Sherman: Yankees will need to go two years to re-sign Ichiro
  • Chris Widger

    I love Phil. I’ve loved him since he was drafted, and when he was getting smoked the last two years I’ve defended him until his ERA made that impossible.

    But there is no way the Yankees should extend him. Give him a qualifying offer at the end of the year and take the draft pick.

    • Buhner’s barber

      Agree, at the end of the day he’s worth less to the yankees than almost any other team. We shouldn’t pay him for what he would rightly deserve from a team with a pitcher’s ballpark.

      • Mister D

        “he’s worth less to the yankees than almost any other team”

        Well put. He’ll got elsewhere and put up a sub 4.00 ERA and everyone will rant that the Yankees should have kept him. Just a really bad fit for YSIII; doubling his road HRs would give him 26 which isn’t great by any means, but more than decent with a 7.8 SO/9 and 2.2 BB/9.

        “Fun” fact: Hughes has given up 59 career HR at home, 29 on the road. That’s not cool.

        • gageagainstthemachine

          Platoon him with Phelps. Hughes for road games. Phelps for home games. The resting guy gets his “side bullpen” in by actually pitching out of the bullpen in other games. I have no stats to back this up, it’s a stupid idea, and I’m 80% joking and 20% serious. Ok, maybe 90/10. But I wanted to say it anyway.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      Depending on the season he has, he may very well take the qualifying offer.

      • Angel

        Trade him to the Marlins along with Granderson for Stanton…
        Seriously though the Yankees should look to trade him to the weak hitting NL and get some good prospects for him. He has good stuff but no confidence; bad combination for pitching in the toughest division.

  • Rich in NJ

    They should be discussing a reasonable extension (they could probably trade him later if they want), and consider moving him if he rejects it.

    • Chris Widger

      But they do need him right now. He’s a much better bet than Nova, and even Phelps. With a reduced offense the Yankees need rotation depth. And they won’t get much for one year of Phil Hughes.

      • Rich in NJ

        They do, and they will likely need him next season as well, which is why I would like to keep him. But it costs nothing to gauge both his asking price and his market value.

        • Chris Widger

          No, you’re right, no harm in that, but I wouldn’t trade him unless the offer was for a top ML ready prospect at a premium position.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Of course. It has to worth that sort of rotation destabilization.

  • Chris Widger

    Also so much depends on Pineda’s shoulder. If he can make it back, and I know it’s no sure thing but pitchers have done it before, the Yankees rotation looks SO much better going into next year.

  • TheOneWhoKnocks

    I’m not in favor of a Hughes extension. With a $189m payroll restriction tying up $8-10m into Hughes isn’t a great use of our remaining resources.
    He’s been too inconsistent and I don’t think there’s enough upside there that we gain anything by locking him up.

    At his best he’s a solid back end starter, which has value but it isn’t something you should try to lock up long term. We can go year to year and sign guys off the free agent 1 year deal scrapheap and replace his production.
    I know Kuroda and Andy are nearing their end but we have CC, Nova, Phelps, Pineda all already at the big league level with several guys who could be ready by 2014 as well. I’d rather have the $8-10m annually to play with over the next 3-4 years than have Hughes.

    • Havok9120

      Yeah, I see no reason for the Yanks to pay for his performance. If we had a different park, sure. I think he’d be worth 8-10/year to us if we didn’t play in a homer-happy park…but we do, and we need to tailor our pitching staff toward that reality in the same way we tailor our offense toward the short porch.

  • Jersey Joe

    If Hughes, Pettitte, Kuroda are all gone come 2014, then it’s 2011 all over again. We need to keep Hughes; kinda hoping for a down year so we can sign him a bit cheaper than normal for celery cap.

    Also, really REALLY random name, but does Casper Wells + C prospect from SEA make sense in a trade where we give up Eppley?

    • George’s Ghost

      This is such a BS comment. We are hoping for a down year so we can sign him cheaper? Jesus, I am so sick of this 189M cap. Are my spoiled kids going to lower ticket prices to reflect the additional revenue this team is making? Sell the team so I can rest in peace!

  • CountryClub

    “A big chunk of that money is going to Robinson Cano”

    The only way they resign Cano is if this yr is a disaster. I just dont see them signing another 8+ yr deal.

    As for Hughes, offer him 3/27 and see if that gets it done.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      I definitely see them signing 8+ year deals again. Maybe not for Cano, but they will do it. They may just choose to wait until ARod/Tex/CC are closer to being off the books.

    • Hitman 23

      I agree. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that Cano gets resigned. In fact, if he wants more than 6 years say goodbye.

  • Dicka24

    I like the idea of waiting till the seasons over, and offering him the qualifier if you have to. A) doing so will at least net a draft pick, and B) worst case you get another year, albeit potentially overpaying, to figure out if he’s worth a longer term deal. I like Hughes and all, but his flyball style and homer totals don’t really mesh with the AL East and Yankee Stadium. The question is can they get similar production from a Phelps or Nova, at a fraction of the cost, which might allow them to take on a higher salaried, more proven starter. Who that is who knows, but just saying.

    • Chris Widger

      Honestly, I could easily see Phelps being able to duplicate Phil’s last year. He really showed me a lot in his stints this year, and he’s got a deeper arsenal.

      Nova’s more of a wildcard. The stuff is there. But he’s way too hittable and makes mistakes at an unusually high rate over the heart of the plate. Can he adjust? He’s not walking as many people as he did, which is a good sign.

      • Havok9120

        Its not even that he seems to be making mistakes at an unusually high rate, its just that all his mistakes were getting hit. I suppose he could be telegraphing his mistakes somehow but it could also just be luck.

  • Dicka24

    Redsox just signed Dempster for 2 years and $26.5 million.

    • Chris Widger

      Yeah, good luck to them with that. He got killed in Texas. The Monster is going to be even better.

    • Rich in NJ

      This is a good move for…the Yankees.

      • jjyank


    • Robinson Tilapia

      Good thing they freed up all that money with how wisely they’re spending it.

      • bingo bango

        Victorino is a top 10 CFer.

      • Ted Nelson

        I don’t think they’ll be particularly good this season, but I do think people will be surprised by how well their signings work out.

        They’ve added 3 guys with a lot of power from the right side who are all candidates for (park inflated) career years.

        I think people are making way too much out of a small sample size with Dempster. His peripherals were still strong in Texas. It’s not without risk, but assuming every NL pitcher will get lit up in the AL is not something I’m into. The past four years he’s actually been better than Kuroda’s four years before NY. I think it’s a pretty reasonable deal. Could blow up, could be a steal, good be fair value.

    • Get Phelps Up

      Him and Lackey in the same rotation in the AL East. Hahaha.

      • jjyank

        Awesome O’Clock is almost upon us.

        • Havok9120

          I can’t wait. I’m spamming those videos all over the place whenever he does anything of note.

          “I already told you that I will be ready to pitch at AWESOME O’CLOCK”

          *rolling thunder*

  • Sam G

    2014 rotation if he’s re-signed:


    • Hitman 23

      Stop it with the killer b’s. There are no killer b’s anymore. One is o the shelf due to injury and the other is still walking people on his break.

  • Ted Nelson

    I don’t see it happening. You say he’s in-line for Wandy/Blanton money just after showing that he’s not been nearly as good. I think the Yankees would want to pay him a reasonable salary for what he’s been, and he would want a salary based on what he can be going forward… I just don’t think the Yankees plunge serious resources into an erratic mid-rotation arm. I see the gap being too big, and him hitting the market.

    • entonces

      They’ll wind up paying more for someone worse. Truth is, they will almost certainly need another starter and Hughes — even if they pay him $12 million a year — will likely be better than what they can get. The budget as I figure it actually allows for one more player at up to $15 million. (That assumes seven homegrown first and second year players — which they can do if they start integrating some of them this year).
      Maybe the money is better spent on a hitter. That point can be argued either way. But Cash would have tp pull a rabbit out of a hat to find a better pitcher at lower dollar (and/or) trade cost.

  • Sam G

    Also Hears a Thought what if the yanks pulled off a trade with the white sox to get Chris sale:
    It would probably take:
    Hughes/nova/phelps/Warren <–either one

    • Rich in NJ

      This team needs more future cost-controlled depth, not less, especially in terms of position players, and trading low on Baneulos is not a good idea.

      • entonces

        Exactly right, NJ.

    • Havok9120

      So, the only catcher we’ve got with any upside, the guy most likely to help out the OF in 2014, AND two of the pitchers we’re counting on for letting us field a decent but cheap rotation, all for a guy that everyone seems convinced will suffer a Total Arm Explosion at some point in the near future.


      • Havok9120

        Sorry, that sounds a lot harsher than I meant it to. I blame my mood from writing all these darn term papers.

  • vin
  • dkidd

    phil hughes is the oldest 26 year-old in history

    • Mister D

      This used to be my go to when people were complaining about Hughes a few years ago, especially in relation to Clay Buchholz (2 years older or something). Doesn’t work as well anymore.

  • nsalem

    Despite his tendency to give up HR’s in YS3 last year his home numbers (at a glance) seemed to be much stronger than his road numbers. I thought he showed growth in the second half of last year especially in his ability to challenge hitters with a two strike count. Knowing his role might have settled him down. Though he will probably never be the ace we once dreamed of I think he will improve as he approaches his peak years and will be worth the investment.

    • Havok9120

      I do want to see how he starts the season before I totally close the book on him. The problem is that we’ve seen him show “growth in his ability to challenge hitters” in the past. Several times. Its just never panned out.

      If he can stay effective despite his HRs, I’d be happy to resign him. He’s just been too inconsistent for me to be for it right now.

  • Matt DiBari

    After six years of injury and mediocrity, I’d never bet on Phil to have a good, let alone great walk year.

  • Bubba

    I find it amusing that most here appear to want Phil to walk, yet many of those same people were clamoring for resigning Russell Martin the catching equivalent of Phil Hughes. If Nova pulls another 2012 and Phelps turns into a pumpkin, the Yankees would have to replace 4 starting pitchers in 2014. Good luck squeezing Robbie and 4 starters into 189.

    • Matt DiBari

      We wouldn’t be doing that regardless? Just that Phil and his ten million would count as one of those four.

  • RetroRob

    Phil can go 12-12 with a 4.50 ERA in 2013 and he will get an AAV of $8-10M per. That’s the market.

    • Havok9120

      Especially since I think most FOs can read his home/road home run splits. That’ll be factored into value going forward by at least a couple clubs, and that’s all he’ll need.

    • Preston

      Phil could miss the entire season with arm problems and if his medicals check out he’ll get a 5 million guaranteed contract from somebody.

      • RetroRob

        Agreed. It’s one reason the Yankees might want to approach him this off season on say a three-year, $21-24M deal. AAV of $7-8M. Hughes will be a member of the rotation in 2013 as is, which means the deal would have only two years remaining. That actually would make Hughes more tradeable than he is right now.

        Question is would Hughes be open to it. He might take the money as additional security with the goal or entering the market again when he’s still a 29-year-old.

        Frankly, the Yankees seriously have to rethink their approach on not negotiating with players until they’re free agents because they will always pay a premium, and under the new CBA that approach hurts the team.

        • Preston

          I agree that they should always be open to doing anything that makes the team better. But the time to extend Hughes is past. 3/21 is a lot for I guy who’s had two healthy years as a quality starter in 5 years in the big leagues.

  • entonces

    Little love here for Phil, who has disappointed in many ways.
    And yet Yanks would not have won pennant in 2009 without his dominant se-up relief work. And he’s managed to win 16 and 18 games in two of the last three years. I wonder how many other MLB pitchers can make that claim. He’s not an ace. But he’s a solid and still young #3 who could actually get better if he ever regains enough confidence to lengthen his stride.

    • entonces


    • Havok9120

      In terms of re-signing him, even those of us who have defended him to this point see it as questionable. He’s a fly ball pitcher in a homer friendly park in a division full of homer friendly parks. His ability to pitch around those home runs has been so inconsistent that locking him up for a longer period is a very risky proposition. This is especially true as a team with a stadium friendlier to fly ball pitchers will pay a premium for the skills he possess, a premium we would be silly to try and match under our circumstances.

  • parmesan

    Where’s a nugget of analysis on the idea Hughes might actually continue to improve and wind up a total bargain? If he maintanes a 4 ish K/BB and reduces the homers even a smidge he’s well on his way. Dude went from getting smoked by LHH’s to the opposite last last season, which is just strange. Hopefully he continues to figure it out and this new slider develops post haste.

    I think the Yanks should be jumping at something like 3/$30MM with a couple buyout-attached team options to boot.

    • louzer

      The Pro-Phil guys are 100% right on. I was just talking to my friend about exactly this.

      Extend Hughes now coming off a mediocre year in which he showed growth and you will be saving money next year when he will be the ONLY under 30 starting pitcher on the market worth signing. And knowing his role, he has started to show improvement plus most pitchers are just starting to learn how to really pitch at his current age.

      All that aside, look at what you will have to replace next year:

      So if you sign Hughes now, you have your #1SP and your #3/4 under contract. Pineda will likely be a #2 or a #4 himself. Nova/ Phelps fill the #5/6 spot and you are only in the market for 1 SP. If Nova bounces back and Phelps continues to progress you need none, especially if Pineda pitches like his talent and takes over the #2.

      Pitching is the most expensive thing on the market, especially young pitching. Locking him up and taking yourself out of that market would be HUGE in getting to 189 because we will undoubtedly spend FAR more than what he costs today on the open market next year.

      It’s just smart business.

  • OldYanksFan

    The real question is…. if you let Phil walk, what does it cost to replace him?

    I know it’s the Sox, but Ryan Dumpster just got $13m AAV.
    Career wise, his numbers are very close to Phil’s, but he is much older.
    So if we need to dip into the FA market, what can we get for the $10m/yr we save?

  • YankeeGrunt

    The issue isn’t whether Hughes is terrible, he isn’t. For parts of last season (especially before Kuroda hit his stride) he was our best starter, and the fact that after his bad start to the season he still had a sub-4.00 ERA in September speaks volumes to how well he pitched over the summer. He threw some flat-out gems too. The issue is that he could be a lot more valuable to a team with an expansive ballpark than he is to us playing in Yankee Stadium, where the longball is always a possibility.

  • Weeks

    Well of course he gives up lots of homers. He pitches in a homer-friendly park.

  • Another Bronx Dynasty

    Trade Hughes to the Mets for Dickey. At Citifield he’ll never give up another homer.

  • SteveB

    There is ZERO chance the Yankees offer Hughes an extension. The Yankees just don’t do that.
    As for his chances after 2013– there are sooo many variables. Except for CC, right now every current Yankees starter is unsigned for 2014 (except Phelps/Nova). You have to think that no matter what, they’d be interested in an effective Hughes, but who says Hughes will even have a decent 2013 season? I think it’s 50-50 that he’ll do better than 13 wins with a WHIP under 1.300, an ERA under 4.50 & less than 1.6 HR/9inn. The last time he threw more than 150 innings, his arm was dead the next spring. Plus, you can figure at least a $10mill increase minimum for 2014 while the Yankees are trying to get under that $189mill number, and you have to say that unless he improves in 2013 the Yankees will let him walk.
    In fairness- he was pitching better the second half of 2012. But he was still giving up those HRs!!

  • SteveB

    One thing I forgot to mention–

    Hughes was a FAR better pitcher in YS in 2012, despite giving up a lot more HRs–

    YS—- 16 starts, 11-4, 3.74, 1.186 WHIP, 2.01 HR/9inn
    Away– 16 starts, 5-9, 4.76, 1.349 WHIP, 1.26 HR/9inn

    So if you are a ballclub not named ‘Yankees’, these numbers would give you pause.

  • http://bleacherreport ken

    maybe i’m in the minority but i say extend him now when you can do it for less! only to numbers or stats that matter to me are 26 yrs old and 16&18 (the number of wins in 2 of the last 3 years) ke will only continue to get better and their are going to be other positions on this team that are going to need to be filled so keeping phil helps there!

  • http://mlb corethree

    Don’t do it.

  • James Oliver

    With the age of pitching staff they have now and lack of prospects on the way they would be crazy not to extend him but if they think they can play without a ” Major League Catcher” maybe they feel they don’t need Major League Pitching either. How is Russel Martin looking now?

  • Patrick Oliver

    I disagree Mike.
    Hughes needs to be more consistent first.
    Then get a deal Phil, Yankees.
    Go Yankees!

    • http://bleacherreport ken

      show me how many other pitchers have won 16 and 18 games in 2 of the last 3 years plus he’s not ready for his AARP card like the rest of this team! catfish hunter gave up more homers then hughes and he’s in the hall of fame!