Neal: Twins agree to deal with Phil Hughes

Via LaVelle E. Neal: The Twins have agreed to sign Phil Hughes to a three-year contract worth $24M. I thought he would take a one-year deal, hope to rebuild value in 2014, then try to land a big contract next winter, when he would still only be 28. Hughes appears to have gone for the biggest payday instead, which is never a bad idea. Target Field should help his homerun problem, at least somewhat. The Yankees will not receive a compensation draft pick because they didn’t make Hughes a qualifying offer.

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What Went Wrong: Phil Hughes

The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the end of a disappointing homegrown era.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This was the biggest year of Phil Hughes‘ career. He was coming off a disappointing but almost perfectly league average 2012 season and had the opportunity to pitch his way into a hefty free agent contract this summer. This wasn’t your average contract year. Hughes’ walk year potentially meant going out onto the market at age 27 (!) with AL East and small ballpark success under his belt. Teams would have been lining up to pay him.

Rather than capitalize on that opportunity, Phil had the worst non-injury plagued season of his big league career. The end result was a 5.19 ERA and 4.50 FIP in 145.2 innings across 29 starts and one relief appearance, a performance that was below replacement level. Outside of a four-start stretch from late-April through early-May, Hughes never really put it together for any length of time. There was only one other instance this year in which he surrendered two of fewer earned runs in three consecutive starts. It was ugly for a number of reasons. Here are a few.

Homers For Everyone
Believe it or not, Hughes actually improved his homerun rate from 2012 to 2013. He allowed 35 homers in 191.1 innings last summer, which works out to 1.65 HR/9 and 12.4% HR/FB. This past season it was 24 homers in 145.2 innings, or 1.48 HR/9 and 11.1% HR/FB. Obviously the sheer volume of homeruns allowed is a problem, but timing was an issue as well. Twenty-three of those 35 homers in 2012 were solo shots (66%) and 25 came when the score was separated by two or fewer runs (71%). This season, 17 of 24 homers were solo shots (71%) and 22 of 24 (!) came with the score separated by no more than two runs (92%).

Obviously there is more to consider here than just Hughes — the Yankees played nothing but close games this past season because they had a crappy offense, so he had more opportunities to give up dingers in tight games. Still, it goes to show how untrustworthy Phil was for a team that needed steady and reliable pitching to compete. Any pitcher can give up a homer at any time, but Hughes is especially long ball prone and all season we sat on the edge of our seats waiting for the #obligatoryhomer. Every start he was walking on eggshells.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Bullpen Killer
Aside from missing his very first start of the season due to lingering back problem, Hughes did take the ball every five days for the Yankees. Despite that, he failed to throw enough innings (162) to qualify for the ERA title. Hughes led all of baseball with 14 (!) starts of fewer than five full innings of work, four more than second place Barry Zito and five more than second place in the AL Erik Bedard. Part of that was Joe Girardi‘s general lack of faith in him, as the skipper rightfully showed a very quick hook late in the season.

Among the 192 pitchers to make at least ten starts in 2013, only eight averaged fewer innings per start than Hughes (5.01). The guy was a drain on the rest of the pitching staff. He taxed the bullpen when he pitched and that’s something that can (and often did) carry over and impact the next day’s game. Calling Phil a five-and-fly starter this year would be pretty generous.

Getting Ahead But Not Putting Away
There is one thing that Hughes does exceptionally well, and that’s get ahead of hitters. He threw a first pitch strike to a whopping 71.7% of batters faced in 2013, the highest rate in all of baseball (min. 100 innings). Patrick Corbin (70.2%) and Cliff Lee (68.5%) were the only other pitchers within four percentage points of Phil. Furthermore, Hughes was second in baseball by going to an 0-2 count on 26.3% of batters faced this summer. Only Lee (28.7%) was better. There’s no denying Phil did an outstanding job of getting ahead in the count and putting himself in a position to succeed.

However, he rarely took advantage of those opportunities. Hughes’ lack of a legitimate put-away pitch led to foul ball after foul ball and prolonged at-bats, so much so that he ranked 118th in pitches per plate appearance (3.97) out the 145 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings. He was 134th in pitches per inning (17.5). Batters hit a remarkable .281/.290/.409 (177 OPS+) against Phil when he was ahead in the count and a ridiculous .245/.290/.413 (213 OPS+) when he jumped ahead 0-2. The league average following an 0-2 count was .167/.197/.248 this summer. That’s nut. It’s easy to think Hughes is an out-pitch away from becoming an ace given his ability to get ahead in the count, but you can say that about a whole lot of guys. He’s not anything special in that regard.

* * *

Barring something completely unexpected, Hughes will leave the Yankees and sign with a new team as a free agent this winter. He pitched his way out of a qualifying offer — making the offer seemed like a no-brainer as recently as late-July or so — so the Bombers won’t even get a draft pick as compensation. For shame.

Hughes will leave the Bronx having pitched to a 4.54 ERA and 4.31 FIP in 780.2 innings. That’s the third highest ERA and tenth highest FIP in team history among the 88 pitchers to throw at least 500 innings in pinstripes. Only Hank Johnson (4.84 ERA and 4.82 FIP), who played a century ago, and A.J. Burnett (4.79 ERA and 4.31 FIP) are worse in both categories. Hughes was electric as a reliever during the team’s World Championship season in 2009 and he had two years as an adequate back-end starter (2010 and 2012), but otherwise he was a huge disappointment and another example of the team’s inability to turn its top minor league talent into top Major League contributors.

Heyman: Yankees won’t make qualifying offer to Hughes, undecided on Granderson

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees will not make Phil Hughes a qualifying offer before Monday’s deadline and they are still undecided about Curtis Granderson. Our poll this week shows fans are very much in favor of making the offer to Granderson but not Hughes. Heyman also confirms Robinson Cano and Hiroki Kuroda will receive the tender while Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, and every other one of the team’s free agents will not. None of that is surprising.

Hughes, 27, simply pitched his way out of both a qualifying offer and a monster multi-year contract. I don’t know what kind of deal he’ll get this winter, but at his age, I expect it to be something short so he can rebuild value and go back out on the open market before his 30th birthday. Granderson seems like an obvious qualifying offer candidate given the lack of power in baseball right now, but apparently the team is afraid of him accepting and throwing a wrench into the all-important plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold. Sucks.

147 players, 13 Yankees officially become free agents

As I mentioned this morning, eligible players officially became free agents at 9am ET this morning. They still have to wait five days to sign with new teams, however. The MLBPA released a list of all 147 free agents this afternoon, which you can check out right here. Among those 147 players are 13 Yankees: Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Travis Hafner, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Lyle Overbay, Andy Pettitte, Mark Reynolds, Mariano Rivera, Brendan Ryan, and Kevin Youkilis.

There are currently 28 players on the 40-man roster, though Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Corban Joseph, Jayson Nix, Francisco Cervelli, and CC Sabathia all have to be activated off the 60-day DL by Monday. So, in reality, there are 34 players on the 40-man.

Poll: Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, and the qualifying offer

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

One way or another, the 2013 baseball season will be over within the next 48 hours. It could end as soon as tonight. Once it does, a couple hundred players will become free agents and the offseason officially gets underway. There is a five-day waiting period before players can negotiate and sign with new teams, but a lot happens in those five days. Specifically, teams must decide whether to tender qualifying offers to their top free agents.

The qualifying offer system is rather simple. This winter it is a one-year contract worth $14.1M, and if you make the offer to an impending free agent, you are entitled to a supplemental first round draft pick if he rejects and signs elsewhere. If he accepts, then he’s back on your team at that price. The Yankees will surely make Robinson Cano and Hiroki Kuroda qualifying offers — the $14.1M actually represents a pay cut for both — but not others like Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan. Only super-elite relievers get paid that much.

Guys like Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay and Brendan Ryan won’t receive a qualifying offer for obvious reasons. There’s also no need to extend an offer to either Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte since both are retiring. Even if they do have a sudden change of heart and decide to pitch next year, the $14.1M price would be a bit steep. As much as the Yankees would love Pettitte and/or Rivera to return, they also don’t want either accepting the offer and blowing up their plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold.

Two players are on the qualifying offer fence: Curtis Granderson and Phil Hughes. They’re on the fence for different reasons, obviously. There’s a case to be made for extending the $14.1M tender to both guys and a case to me made for not making the offer at all, so let’s make them.

(Ron Antonelli/Getty)
(Ron Antonelli/Getty)

Curtis Granderson
The Case For: Before an injury-plagued 2013 season, Granderson was one of the game’s premier power hitters. His 84 homers between 2011 and 2012 were the most in baseball, and during those two seasons he hit .247/.342/.522 (131 wRC+) while playing in 316 of 324 possible games. Granderson is still only 32 (he’ll turn 33 in March), so he’s not yet at an age when you’d expect him to start a significant decline. The Yankees were power-starved last season so even if Granderson accepts, he would go a long way towards correcting that problem.

The Case Against: Curtis was limited to only 61 games this past season due to a pair of fluky hit-by-pitch injuries, pitches that broke bones in his right forearm and left hand. When he was healthy late in the year, he only managed a .229/.317/.407 (97 wRC+) batting line and only seven homers, so he didn’t show his usual power. It could have been the result of the hand/arm injuries or it could have been signs of decline. Granderson has always struck out a ton (26.5% even during 2011-2012) and he doesn’t have a ton of defensive value, even in a corner spot. I think we can all agree the one-year aspect would be great, but the $14.1M price might be a tad pricey.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Phil Hughes
The Case For: Pitching is hard to find, man. Tim Lincecum landed a two-year deal worth $17.5M annually despite pitching to a 4.76 ERA (3.95 FIP) over the last two years. Hughes, who is two full years younger than Lincecum, had a 4.65 ERA (4.53 FIP) over the last two years in a much tougher ballpark and division. That isn’t to say he’s worth the same annual salary (or more) than Lincecum, just that Timmy’s deal might encourage him to explore the open market. Hughes will be the youngest free agent starting pitcher by far and his ability to get ahead in the count — only Cliff Lee has thrown a higher percentage of first pitch strikes these last two years — could have a pitching savvy team thinking he’s a new grip or some tinkering away from being a frontline starter with his (theoretical) prime years still to come. Even if he were willing to take a one-year contract in an effort to improve his stock before going back out in the market next year, Yankee Stadium and the AL East is not the place he’d do it. At his age, there are plenty of reasons for Phil to want to explore the free agency.

The Case Against: Hughes has been pretty terrible these last two years, especially in 2013. He had a 5.19 ERA (4.50 FIP) overall and a 6.65 ERA (4.57 FIP) in the second half. Phil only threw 145.2 innings across 29 starts (and one relief appearance) because he led baseball with 14 starts of fewer than five full innings. Barry Zito was a distant second with ten. His fly ball tendencies are an awful fit for Yankee Stadium and even if you think he’s ready to turn the corner and break out, $14.1M is a very steep price to pay. That kind of salary is reserved for sure thing starters, not projects. Even if Hughes were to find a multi-year contract offer this winter, it’s possible he wouldn’t be guaranteed that much money total. Phil could take the money, hope to either rebound or get traded to a team with a ballpark that better suits his skillset, then go back out on the market next year, when he’ll still only be 28. A pitcher coming off this kind of season could very easily decide to take the money, which would severely impact the team’s payroll situation heading into 2014.

* * *

If Granderson and Hughes had typical Granderson and Hughes seasons — for Phil I think that means repeating 2012 (4.23 ERA and 4.56 FIP in 191.1 innings) — then making both guys the qualifying offer would be a no-brainer. Especially Granderson. That isn’t the case through, and now the Yankees are left with a difficult decision to make for both guys. How much do they value potential compensation draft picks compared to financial flexibility and having a better chance to stay under the luxury tax? That’s the question they have to answer within five days of the end of the World Series.

Should the Yankees make Granderson or Hughes a qualifying offer?

Hughes will start tomorrow in place of Sabathia

As expected, Phil Hughes will start tomorrow in place of the injured CC Sabathia. It’s unclear if Hughes and David Huff will work in tandem as usual, or if they’ll be split up. I guess it depends on whether or not he’s needed in relief. The Yankees need to come up with a starter for Saturday unless they plan on throwing Hiroki Kuroda on short rest. Brett Marshall and Adam Warren could be options for that game.

Non-Mariano thoughts following the off-day

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The final week of the regular season is upon us. To make the postseason, the Yankees need to win each of their final six games while the Rays, Rangers, and Indians win no more than two of their remaining games. Or something like that. Let’s see the Bombers hold up their end of the bargain before we start worrying about everyone else. Mathematically, the Yankees are still alive. In reality, they’re done. Such is life. Here are some random thoughts.

1. I’m not quite sure what the Yankees are supposed to do during this final week. I want them to play kids — Zoilo Almonte, J.R. Murphy, Dellin Betances, and Cesar Cabral, specifically — but mostly because I can’t bear to watch guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, Chris Stewart, and Joba Chamberlain any longer. Six games won’t tell us anything about the kids, or least not anything that should change our minds about their long-term potential and possible role in 2013. I’ve just about hit my limit with Ichiro and Stewart and Joba though. They’re unwatchable and there’s something to be said for having a watchable team. Forget looking at it as a fan, I can’t imagine all those companies paying big advertising bucks aren’t so happy with their bang for the buck this year. So please, for my sanity if nothing else, play some young players these last six games and make them interesting.

2. A team official told Erik Boland the return of Phil Hughes for next season “can’t be ruled out,” which is true of pretty much every free agent, really. That seems especially true for Hughes though because the Yankees will have an awful lot of pitching questions to answer prior to next season. If the price is right, the Bombers should definitely look to bring Phil back. The question is what’s the right price? He’s got a 5.07 ERA and 4.53 FIP in 143.2 innings this year, which is by far his worst (mostly) healthy season as a full-time starter. Hughes has alternated ~2 WAR seasons with ~0 WAR seasons since moving into the rotation four years ag0 and you’d be hoping for a rebound by re-signing him. A qualifying offer is out of the question at this point, but would one-year at $4M work? Maybe push it to $5M? I’m a) not terrible confident in the team’s in-house options, and b) in favor of adding as much pitching depth as possible this winter, so I’d definitely bring Hughes back for a year at $4-5M. The problem is he’ll probably get more on the open market — all it takes is one team to overpay.

3. You know how teams who have nothing left to play for — either because they’ve already clinched their postseason spot or have already been eliminated — will trot out a skeleton crew lineup in the final game of the regular season? I wonder if the Yankees will do that on Sunday. If they do, I’d probably use a lineup along these lines:

  1. CF Ichiro
  2. 3B Eduardo Nunez
  3. LF Wells
  4. DH Mark Reynolds
  5. 1B Lyle Overbay
  6. RF Zoilo
  7. 2B David Adams
  8. SS Brendan Ryan
  9. C Murphy

That … looks dangerously close to their regular everyday lineup, no? The only legitimate starting-caliber MLB players who would be sitting in that scenario are Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Alex Rodriguez. There aren’t that many position player call-ups this year. Hiroki Kuroda lines up to start that day, but since he’s out of gas, the Yankees could start Brett Marshall and have him thrown three or four innings before a parade of September call-up relievers take over. I suppose that depends on what they do to replace the injured CC Sabathia this week.

4. With the understanding that the best team doesn’t always win the World Series, which postseason team do you think is most dangerous in a short playoff series? A lot of people will probably pick the Red Sox because they wrecked the Yankees (twice) in recent weeks or the Tigers because hey, they won the pennant last year, but I think it might be the Reds. Johnny Cueto is back from his third lat strain, so manager Dusty Baker will have two aces (Cueto and Mat Latos) and a damn-near ace (Homer Bailey) in his postseason rotation. Their lineup is crazy deep — particularly with guys who work deep counts and make pitchers to throw a lot of pitches — and their bullpen is really underrated behind Aroldis Chapman. Sean Marshall is back from the DL, lefty Manny Parra dominates same-side hitters, and Sam LeCure and J.J. Hoover are as good as any right-handed setup tandem in the game. Not big names, but big results. The Reds are probably going to have to play a wildcard play-in game, which could derail their season in an instant, but that is definitely not a team I want to play in a best-of-five or best-of-seven series.