Archive for Phil Hughes
We’ve spent some time dissecting the team’s performance through the first half of the year. Mike wrote about the A’s, the B’s, and the C’s. Notice he left me with the scrubs – the D’s!* Well, at least the D’s aren’t the F’s. Am I right?
I know some of you might protest our decision to give Phelps a “D” grade. Whether you’re lobbying to give him a “C” doesn’t make much of a difference though — it doesn’t change reality. He’s not been great overall despite some solid starts. It’s also funny, in a peculiar kind of way, how quickly the shine wears off of a guy.
Anyway, Phelps has pitched to a 5.01 ERA (3.85 FIP) and has been worth 1.1 fWAR thus far. He’s struck guys out at a decent rate (8.17 K/9) and hasn’t given up too many long balls (0.87 HR/9). Phelps has allowed a few too many free passes though (3.48 BB/9) and gives up more hits throughout his starts than one would ideally prefer.
Consistency has been the issue here. Despite several quality starts, Phelps has seen his numbers balloon thanks to some really awful games (particularly of late). He allowed four earned runs in 6.1 innings against Minnesota, nine runs against Baltimore (in 2.1 innings!), and four runs to the Mets in a third of an inning. On one hand you can look at Phelps a bit less critically when you consider that he is and always was expected to be a back of the rotation type of arm. One other hand, results are results. Sorry, David.
Getting tired of reading about Phil Hughes yet? Well, we all know the story here – frustrating inconsistency topped off by too many home runs surrendered (1.58 HR/9, here’s the list of pitchers with the most HR surrendered — good to know the Yankees have two guys cracking the top 15). Through 102.1 innings, Hughes has pitched to a 4.57 ERA (4.48 FIP), and has been valued at 0.9 fWAR. In terms of peripherals, he’s striking out 7.74 batters per nine and has limited the walks (2.29 BB/9).
Despite very legitimate concerns over next year’s rotation, it seems pretty clear the Yankees are willing to part ways with the once-heralded Hughes. If they don’t trade him for a bat by the deadline, they’ll give him the qualifying offer after the season, which he probably won’t accept. The funny thing is, as maddening as Hughes has been, he’s still capable of throwing the occasional gem and should he string together some solid starts through the remainder of the season, you know some team will decide he’s worth committing a lot of dollars and several years too. It’s a shame it hasn’t really worked out in New York but that’s how it goes sometimes.
This is a tough break for Chris. He’s basically producing at a reasonable level, I argue … for a backup catcher. The problem is he isn’t a backup catcher. After the Yankees elected to forego Russell Martin for Francisco Cervelli, the most obvious predicament in the world occurred. Cervelli was injured and the team had to figure out where to go from there. That’s when Chris Stewart stepped in as the every day guy.
So what happens to a guy like Chris Stewart when he’s forced to play day in and day out? Well over 197 plate appearances he’ll hit .241/.316/.306 (.282 wOBA, 77 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR). He’ll take a decent number of walks (9.1 BB%) and will put the ball in play frequently (14.2 K%). He’ll also hit for no power whatsoever (three home runs, 0.65 ISO). Defensively, I think he’s generally regarded favorably. Again, I would argue that none of these stats are necessarily bad, they’re just not good.
To put it in perspective, the Yankees catchers collectively rank twentieth in all of baseball in terms of fWAR (1.1), twenty-fourth in wRC+ (68), and twenty-fifth in wOBA (.275). Obviously, not all of this production is Stewart’s doing, though he’s logged far and away the most innings behind the plate. Basically, the production the Yankees have received from their catchers ranks in the bottom third of all of baseball in just about every meaningful category.
Remember when Wells hit .300 with six home runs through April? Remember when folks were wondering whether Cashman was actually a genius for taking on one of the worst contracts in all of baseball? Yep, that didn’t last long. In completely predictable fashion, Wells turned back into the pumpkin he’s been for years — that is to say a grossly overpriced fourth outfielder.
Overall, Big Vern has batted .238/.276/.371 (.282 wOBA, 73 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR). On the plus side, he’s been generally pretty good in the outfield defensively despite a few questionable plays of late. On the down side, he’s managed to hit only four home runs since April. He’s also hit in the heart of order basically all season, even during his putrid May slump.
Given the amount of exposure he’s seen thus far, it’s not surprising he’s shown noticeable splits either (batting .207 against righties). Back in late May, I wrote about Vernon and what we could expect moving forward. Long story short, the conclusion was that he most certainly wasn’t the player we saw in April, and hopefully also not the guy we saw in May. I think this still holds true. Unfortunately, what we can expect is a “D grade” player who was brought to the team out of necessity. Hopefully, he’ll be used more sparingly going forward when and if Curtis returns.
First, let me start by saying that I for one am shocked that Hafner has made it to this point. I was expecting Pronk to pull a Kevin Youkilis and suffer some season-ending injury after the first month or so. Surprisingly, he has generally kept himself in the lineup despite some nagging injuries here and there (most recently a foot contusion that happened during batting practice). Unfortunately (and much like Wells), Hafner has been lousy since May and he too, has shown noticeable splits as to be expected.
Overall, Pronk’s batting .218/.314/.407 (.317 wOBA, 97 wRC+) and has been worth exactly 0.0 fWAR through 277 plate appearances. He has knocked 12 balls out of the park though, which is second on the team to only Robinson Cano (though Lyle Overbay and Wells are right behind him with 11). Hafner continues to take his fair share of walks (11.2 BB%) while striking out at a fair pace (26.0 K%).
Pronk was brought on board for one thing: his job is to mash. The thinking was simple. As long as he’s healthy (or at least relatively healthy), he’ll hit the ball. This hasn’t really been the case though. He’s struggled a lot. He’ll need to turn it around for the rest of the season as the Yankees need some much needed depth in the batting the order.
*Mike did not stick me with the D’s. It just worked out that way because of timing. Actually, I claimed the F’s too.
The Yankees are said to be “aggressive pushing” Phil Hughes on the trade market in hopes of landing a bat, but Joel Sherman says they aren’t just looking for a short-term fix. They want a position player they can control for multiple years. Sherman hears the team will make Hughes a qualifying offer after the season and either recoup a draft pick or get him back on a one-year deal (if he accepts), which they don’t mind. “(They) believe, at worst, he would be tradeable if that were the case,” he writes.
Hughes, 27, has a 4.57 ERA and 4.48 FIP in 102.1 innings spread across 18 starts this season. His strikeout (7.74 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and walk (2.29 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%) rates are better than the league average but not eye-popping, and, as usual, his bugaboo remains the long ball (1.58 HR/9 and 11.8% HR/FB). Hughes would almost certainly benefit from playing in a larger home park, which is why the Yankees don’t expect him to accept the qualifying offer after the season, Sherman says. Given his age and strong non-homer peripherals, other clubs are expected to offer multi-year pacts this winter. Either way, this next few weeks figure to be Phil’s last in pinstripes. It’s just a question of whether he’s traded or walk away on his own.
Via Ken Rosenthal (video link): The Rockies have interest in acquiring Phil Hughes, but they want him as a reliever and only if the price is right. The Yankees have been “aggressively pushing” the right-hander in recent weeks in hopes of landing a bat.
Hughes, 27, has a 4.57 ERA and 4.48 FIP in 18 starts this year, and he hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen regularly since 2009. Obviously his homerun issues would only be exacerbated in Coors Field, but that wouldn’t be the Yankees’ problem. The Rockies don’t have many realistically available bats to help New York outside of someone like Tyler Colvin (7 wRC+) and maybe infielder Jordan Pacheco (46 wRC+). Meh. The Yankees would be better off just sticking Hughes in the bullpen themselves in that case.
2:16pm: For what it’s worth, Rosenthal says the Phillies are not one of the teams pursuing Joba. The turntables have … turned.
12:49pm: Jon Heyman says the Yankees have been talking to teams about trading Hughes for a bat, and the Angels might have interest. “I think he could fetch quite a bit,” said a rival executive.
11:30am: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees are “aggressively pushing” both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes on the trade market. He hears Joba could be moved to an NL club soon. Another source says that while the team is talking about both, nothing is imminent. The non-waiver trade deadline is exactly three weeks away.
The Giants, Braves, and Phillies are among the clubs who are said to have interest in Chamberlain. There have been rumblings of a salary dump trade involving Michael Young and/or Carlos Ruiz with the Phillies, but that’s one I’ll have to see to believe. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) says the Yankees are planning to make Hughes a qualifying offer after the season and therefore seek something worth more than a supplemental first round pick in a trade. Plans change of course, and what the team says and what they actually do are two different things. It’s all posturing.
A few days ago, I asked my Twitter followers if they had any requests for my next post topic. I considered a few of the responses but ultimately chose this one: “Make the case that the Yankees should trade Phil Hughes right now.” Well, I’m not sure I personally agree with this proposal, but for the sake of discussion, I’ll give it a shot.
Hughes is out of here at the end of the season anyway! At this point, it seems inevitable that the Yankees will allow Phil Hughes to walk once the 2013 campaign ends. I discussed some potential contract outcomes for Hughes back in mid-May; he figures to have a decent payday coming his way even if he is mostly mediocre for the remainder of this season. You know some team will give him an Edwin Jackson-esque contract. If he finishes the season strong, who knows, maybe he gets even more. Despite the obvious question marks surrounding next year’s rotation, it seems like the presumed austerity budget will prevent the Yankees from re-signing him once he hits free agency. Although Buster Olney thinks a qualifying offer could happen, I wonder whether it actually will happen considering that the price tag would be pretty high if he actually accepted, which could strain the budget.
He’s a perennial underachiever! He was supposed to be a future Yankees ace. Instead he’s a middle-to-back of the rotation type of arm with the potential for the occasional hot streak. He owns a career 4.41 ERA (4.27 FIP) and has never been valued at more than a 2.5 fWAR. Is that useful? Sure. Is it that hard to replace? Questionable, especially if he’s being paid Edwin Jackson money. He also has shown the propensity for giving up the long ball. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher in a hitter’s ball park. His skillset just doesn’t make sense for New York and their stadium. Let the kid find a niche elsewhere. He’s 27 years old. Maybe he’ll figure things out in another season or two. Maybe he won’t. To make matters worse, he’s also had some obvious durability concerns over the years.
Perhaps a decent player in return is plausible! To follow up on the first argument, the team could potentially use Hughes to acquire a player who could help the team now and down the road since he probably won’t be back after the season. Some team will be looking for more starting pitching down the stretch and heading into the playoffs (whether that’s due to their own rotation’s ineffectiveness or injury), and if Hughes continues to put up quality starts he may draw some interest. While I’m not sure that Hughes could bring back a useful player by himself, maybe if he were packaged with one of the team’s better prospects, a quality trade could be possible. If the idea is to shed team salary, then trying to find a young MLB ready position player with a few years of team control would make a lot of sense – especially if the team has soured a bit on some of their own prospects. For what it’s worth, the team has already begun testing the market with him and Joba.
The rotation will be fine without him! With the exception of the last few starts, Hughes hasn’t been one of the team’s more consistent contributors this year. He could become one down the stretch, but who knows how that’ll play out or if it’ll ultimately even matter. The team could potentially piece together some decent starts in Hughes’ absence with Ivan Nova – not to mention Michael Pineda, who will be available soon as well. Frankly, given the offensive woes, it may not make one bit of a difference who pitches anyway unless they’re prepared to throw a shut out every start.
Would you look to trade Phil Hughes right now?
Would you look to trade Phil Hughes right now?
Four questions in this draft-free mailbag. If you’re interested in the draft though, check out today’s open thread. Otherwise, think up some questions for next week’s mailbag and send them to use with the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Kenny asks: What are your thoughts on re-signing Phil Hughes next year to close? Granted, he’d have to want to close and it would take a few other things like Michael Pineda coming back strong, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps continuing to progress, but he could dominate there.
Barring injury or a complete performance collapse, there’s no chance Hughes will re-sign with the Yankees as a closer. Zero. None. Not unless they pay him like a starter. Some team(s) will offer him a nice contract and a rotation spot, and that’s where he’ll go. He has no reason to come back as a reliever.
I do think Hughes would be awesome in the bullpen though, and in fact we already know he would be. We’ve seen him do it in 2009 and remember, he was dynamite out of the bullpen late in 2011 and during the postseason. If for some unexpected reason the Yankees don’t need a starter next year, sure, bring him back a reliever. He wouldn’t be open to it, however. The money is in the rotation.
Nick asks: Why not have an eleven-man pitching staff? They have several guys in the pen who can throw multiple innings, and a long man in Adam Warren so I think they can handle it. The 12th guy on the staff seems to go weeks between games (at least for the last few years). The extra bench player could allow them to do more of a platoon with several of their veterans, who are old and have platoon splits.
The easy answer is that a seven-man bullpen is commonplace these days and teams always hesitate to go against the grain. It’s been a while since the Yankees used a six-man bullpen and I don’t see them going back anytime soon. Having the extra arm is always nice, really.
That said, I do think teams could get away with it as long as they have three or four relievers capable of throwing two innings at a time. It also means having no lefty specialist. The Yankees have more platoons than they know what to do with — seriously, pretty much the only positions they aren’t platooning in some way this year are catcher, first base, second base, and center field — so having that extra position player would be nice.
Considering how important the pitching staff is for this team, carrying the extra pitcher (Joba Chamberlain? Shawn Kelley? Preston Claiborne?) over the extra position player (Brennan Boesch?) isn’t the end of the world. I do think a six-man bullpen is more doable that most realize, however.
Biggie asks: If an Alex Rodriguez suspension comes is he suspended without pay? If so, does his entire salary count against the salary cap or is it adjusted? We are almost 60 games in and suspensions sound two weeks away. Add an appeal and this can possibly carry over into next year. What would that mean to the 2014 $189 budget if anything. Thanks!
Well, the suspensions are nowhere close to two weeks away. The appeals alone will probably take months, especially if they do indeed go after 20 or so players. If A-Rod gets suspended, it won’t happen anytime soon. This labor war party is just getting started.
Anyway, yes the salary Alex forfeits during a suspension would not count against the luxury tax. Ken Davidoff was nice enough to spell it all out today, so I strong suggest reading that. We’re talking upwards of $15M in savings if he does get the 100-game ban MLB is seeking, so it’s a big chunk of change. That can fill a lot of roster holes.
Ariel asks: With our replacement shortstops playing abysmally, do you think the Yankees regret giving up on Ramiro Pena? Do you think he would be playing as well as he has with the Yanks?
You can file this under questions I never thought would be asked. New York has gotten a .216/.286/.289 (67 OPS+) from their shortstops this year while Rakin’ Ramiro has hit .318/.372/.506 (143 wRC+) in 95 plate appearances as utility infielder with the Braves. What the hell is that about?
Now, obviously Pena won’t maintain that pace. It’ll be a minor miracle if he does. A 50.0% ground ball rate and 16.7% HR/FB rate in that ballpark just don’t make sense considering the type of hitter he is, plus the .353 BABIP is a bit above what you’d expect even if he was a true-talent .320 BABIP guy. Pena could always pick it defensively, so that wasn’t the issue.
Considering who the Yankees have used at short and what they’ve gotten out of the position this year, I definitely think they want him back. Of course this kind of production was completely unforeseen, and I don’t think he’ll maintain this at all. He might hit better than he did in the Bronx, but Pena didn’t suddenly become Troy Tulowitzki.
Six questions and five answers this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions or anything else at any time.
Nick asks: Could the Yankees target Chris Perez as a trade candidate? A deal similar to the Joel Hanrahan trade?
My first thought was no way, but my first thought is often wrong. Not only is Mariano Rivera retiring after this season, but Joba Chamberlain is likely to leave as a free agent too. David Robertson is awesome, but I think the Yankees should add some kind of Proven Veteran™ backup plan to the Shawn Kelleys and Preston Claibornes of the world. My preferred choice as of today is impending free agent Grant Balfour, but that is subject to change.
Perez, 27, owns a 2.25 ERA and 5.72 FIP in 16 innings this year. He’s run into some serious homer problems of late, serving up three to the last eight batters he’s faced. Since getting the closer’s job outright in 2010, Perez has pitched to a 2.80 ERA (3.88 FIP) with a strong strikeout (8.11 K/9 and 21.6 K%) rate but mediocre walk (3.53 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) and ground ball (34.7%) numbers. He managed to cut his walk rate to 2.50 BB/9 (6.6 BB%) last year, but that hasn’t stuck so far. I think we can say Perez is what he is at this point.
The Hanrahan comparison is perfect. Perez will be a free agent after the 2014 season, so acquiring him this winter means you’d be getting one year of a two-time All-Star, Capital-C Closer like the Red Sox got with Hanrahan. Would the Indians take a package of four spare parts like the Pirates did? Who knows. The Yankees could slap together a package of Dellin Betances, Zoilo Almonte, Eduardo Nunez … guys like that if the Indians will take quantity over quality. Perez has had some run-ins with the Indians brass over the years and could be available, but I want to see how he performs the rest of the season before going all-in.
Johnny asks: How would you handicap the chances of Yankees trading Phil Hughes before deadline?
I think they’re very, very small. This team lives and dies with its pitching as presently constructed, so I don’t see them giving up a rotation arm even if Hughes will be a free agent (and likely leaving) after the season. Maybe if Michael Pineda comes back strong, Ivan Nova figures things out in Triple-A, Vidal Nuno continues to impress in the show … maybe. I’d want a bat in return, preferably at shortstop or catcher. Someone who can help the team today, not prospects. Prospects suck.
Alex asks: Do you think that the Yankees’ preference for bat-first catchers has hindered the development of their minor league pitchers? The Yanks have seemed to be notoriously poor at bringing pitchers up to reach their ceiling for the past decade-plus.
It could be a factor, but I don’t think it’s a big one. Most minor league catchers stink at defense, and it’s not like Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy — the teams’ two most notable bat-first catchers — are atrocious defenders. Reports over the last 18 months or so have been very positive about their defensive improvement. Jesus Montero was a miserable defender though, and he did work with most of the team’s top young arms over the years.
I suppose having no confidence in the catcher blocking a breaking ball in the dirt or throwing out base-stealers could alter pitch selection, but pitchers are usually given a set number of pitches to throw per game. A team will tell their guy he needs to throw 25 curveballs or whatever per start as part of his development. Maybe bad defensive catchers have contributed to the team’s lack of success with starting pitching prospects, but I feel like it would be just a small part of the problem.
Mike asks: Is it time for some promotions in the minor league system? I know Dietrich Enns is 22 already, but he is blowing away the competition in A-ball (along with Rafael DePaula). These guys, along with Murphy and Sanchez, need to go up a level. Right?
Shep asks: Given his early success in Low-A and his “age,” how quickly do you think DePaula will climb the ladder? What is your prediction for his MLB debut?
Gonna lump these two together. We’re starting to approach promotion season, which usually takes place from mid-June through July, when the draft provides some new players to fill roster spots. Enns has been awesome — lefty with a 0.71 ERA (1.34 FIP) and 43/11 K/BB in 25.1 innings for Low-A Charleston — and I expect him to get bumped up to High-A Tampa at midseason. Murphy and Sanchez are repeating levels and have performed plenty well enough to earn midseason promotions. Some other obvious promotion candidates include (stats don’t include last night’s games):
- C Peter O’Brien: His defense is awful, but he’s hitting .328/.392/.586 (165 wRC+) with five homers for Low-A Charleston.
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: Hitting .335/.440/.451 (~158 wRC+) and has already been promoted once. Bumping him up to Double-A Trenton allows Angelo Gumbs to play second everyday with High-A Tampa as well.
- RHP Tommy Kahnle: 1.77 ERA (3.50 FIP) with 23 strikeouts and 13 walks in 20.1 innings. Another few weeks of that and he should be ready for Triple-A Scranton.
- RHP Shane Greene: Repeating High-A Tampa with a 3.07 ERA (2.36 FIP) and a 53/8 K/BB in 55.2 innings. Get this man to Double-A Trenton.
DePaula is another animal entirely. The numbers — 2.38 ERA (1.96 FIP) with a 74/19 K/BB in 45.1 innings — are outstanding for Low-A Charleston, but he’s also short on pitching experience because of his various layoffs (suspension, visa) despite being 22 years old. VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman told Chad Jennings a promotion isn’t imminent because he’s “got to develop secondary pitches. He hasn’t pitched that much competitively.”
I do think DePaula will get moved up to High-A Tampa at midseason, but he might spend another four or six weeks with the River Dogs first. Let’s see what happens when the league gets a second and third look at him, how he holds up physically under the workload, stuff like that. DePaula is on a weird development schedule and I’m generally not a fan of promoting starters after 50 or so dominant innings. As for his big league debut … second half of 2015 at the absolute earliest? DePaula will get promoted eventually, there’s no rush.
Travis asks: With the upcoming roster crunch (when DL players start coming back), is there going to come a point where is may make sense to bring Manny Banuelos up from the Triple-A DL to put him on the 60-day DL for MLB? I know they didn’t want to lose a year of control, but at the halfway point, would it be a lost year?
The Super Two date is sometime in early-June, so yeah, there’s a definitely a point where calling him up to clear a roster spot makes sense. Banuelos’ free agency has already been pushed back and they’re only two or three weeks from avoiding Super Two. They might actually be passed that date already since he’s not going to be in the big leagues on Opening Day next year.
There’s still some dead weight on the 40-man roster that can be trimmed — Ben Francisco, Reid Brignac, Melky Mesa, Francisco Rondon, etc. — but the Yankees have six guys expected to come off the 60-day DL in the next two months. Letting Banuelos accrue just a few weeks of service time would be no big deal under the circumstances.
We’re not even half way through the 2013 season — seems like a perfect opportunity to discuss Phil Hughes‘ looming contract situation! The once-heralded prospect from California reached The Show back in 2007. Six-hundred and seventy-five innings (and several injuries) later, he’s amassed a career 4.40 ERA (4.25 FIP), which equates to a cumulative 10.1 WAR according to FanGraphs. In terms of peripheral stats over the course of his career, he’s struck out 7.62 per nine, walked 2.82 per nine, and surrendered 1.27 homeruns per nine. With that said, he’s only 26 year’s old and seems to be heading in the right direction (though his last start wasn’t wonderful). This season, he’s pitched to a 4.43 ERA which is actually just a touch over his 4.15 FIP. His strikeout and walk rates have been better than his career norms so far, and with any luck, his HR/9 rate will end up closer to his career norm than the inflated rate we witnessed all last season.
So here’s the rub. The Yankees have the option of proposing a qualifying offer to him after this season. Should they go that route, Hughes would remain in pinstripes for another season at a salary in the neighborhood of roughly $13-15M. This would delay his free agency for another year should he accept the offer (and would presumably qualify the Yankees for a supplemental first round draft pick if he chooses to take services elsewhere). Subsequently, if Hughes reached free agency in 2015, he’d be potentially competing for another contract against guys like Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Masterson, or Max Scherzer among others — obviously, the list of potential free agents can and probably will change rather drastically as teams attempt to retain their players between now and then (complete 2015 list here).
The Yankees could forgo the qualifying offer altogether after this season and let Phil simply test the free agent market — which would probably be in Phil’s best interest financially. 2014 brings a mediocre group of free agents that includes notable names such as Tim Lincecum, Matt Garza, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Jon Lester (who has a $13M club option), Colby Lewis, Shaun Marcum, and Josh Johnson. Lincecum and Halladay seem to have lost a lot of their star power (due to declining ability and injuries), and I’d be surprised to see Lester’s option does not get picked up. I’d also be surprised to not see Johnson, Garza, and maybe even Shields get traded (and extended) before then, which would all of a sudden makes that list a lot less interesting. Depending who else is available on the market will heavily influence Hughes’ perceived value.
Or, the Yankees could take an alternate and perhaps more desirable path, and buy out Hughes’ 2014 season in addition to a few more with an extension. Technically, the Yankees could also try to trade Phil before this decision has to be made, but seeing as though they’ll likely not be sellers by the deadline, I just don’t see this happening, nor do I think they would get a ton in return anyway. On the one hand, the Yankees face a perilous rotation situation next season. Pretending Michael Pineda is healthy and effective (and that alone may prove to be an excercise in absurdity), that leaves the Yankees with … well, it leaves them with CC Sabathia and Pineda. After that, it’s some combination of David Phelps, Ivan Nova, and not much else. I’d love to believe Manny Banuelos could be in the mix, but that’s probably waaay to optimistic given his rehab timetable and overall progress. Maybe Hopefully Andy Pettitte and/or Hiroki Kuroda are coaxed into another year in pinstripes, but that is not a garauntee by any means given their age and vocalized interest in retirement.
On one hand, having Hughes in the mix would certainly make the rotation a bit more digestable on paper, plus it’s comforting to know what weaknesses you have in a player rather than finding out down the road what baggage someone else brings. On the other hand, there are the talks about an austerity budget which poses a definite financial dilemma, and might be the biggest contributing factor as to why the Yankees may pass on Hughes (along with others) altogether. To be absolutely clear, I hope the Yankees elect to bring Hughes back – not because he has become the wunderkind that was advertised throughout the minors, but because I think he’s a younger alternative to many of the options out there, and honestly just about as effective at this point. To Hughes’ credit, he has also shown occasional capacity to be more than just a back-of-the-rotation type of arm. Also, I don’t necessarily envision the Yankees acquiring another headline-caliber pitcher — the Sabathias of the world are hard to come by after all, but who knows.
So let’s say for a moment that the Yankees roll the dice on Phil and offer him an extension. What might that contract look like? When asked this very question during Thursday’s RAB Live Chat, I whimsically answered five years, $50M. In retrospect, that price seems a bit conservative – though the number of years seems realistic enough. Really, that’s the price I would want the Yankees to pay, although I would definitely not complain with a four year, $52M agreement similar to Edwin Jackson’s. In actuality, I’d be surprised if it didn’t cost more though. Perhaps five years, $60M seems more plausible. At that rate, Hughes would still have some legitimate wealth, and wouldn’t completely break the bank for the Yankees (not to mention the contract would still include his peak years). For what it’s worth, we’ve also seen guys like Jered Weaver sacrifice a few dollars to stick around with a team he’s comfortable with, and maybe Hughes would do the same for the Yankees (though that’s not necessarily the norm nor would I expect it).
Interestingly enough, Baseball-Reference’s comparitive list of pitchers’ performance most similar by age includes Kyle Kendrick and John Lackey. Kendrick isn’t really useful for contract comparisons as he’s basically going through the same process himself. Lackey could make for an interesting discussion though. If Hughes performs very well for the remainder of the season (especially if the pitchers market becomes increasingly scarce), an inflated contract could become more likely. In his final year with the Angels, Lackey was making $10M. Boston rewarded him with a five-year, $82M salary. This is also similar to the deal that Anibal Sanchez received from the Tigers (though his included a club option). Both of these contracts are probably “best case” scenarios for Phil — but they are still within the realm of plausible. After all, how many times have we seen a team overpay a guy for whatever reason. Also, other organizations may not worry as much about his fly ball tendancies if their stadium is more pitcher friendly.
Conversely, if Hughes has a really disappointing season from here on out, he could end up with an offer closer to Rickey Nolasco, say, a three-year, $36M pact — or, a few years to re-prove himself at a standard rate. Given the premium placed on pitching, the fact that teams have money to spend and Hughes’ favorable age, I’d bet he lands a contract closer to Lackey before I’d bet on one similar to Nolasco — though my guess is he’ll fall somewhere in between, ultimately ending up slightly above Edwin’s arrangement. In any event, the Yankees have some tough decisions to make. Whatever they ultimately do, I’m sure it’ll be scrutinized heavily. In the meantime, what would you do?
Poor Aprils are nothing new for Phil Hughes. The right-hander pitched to a 9.00 ERA in April 2008, a 13.94 ERA in April 2011, and a 7.88 ERA in April 2012. He went into last night’s start against the Rays with a 6.95 ERA with a 5.36 FIP in 90.2 career innings during the season’s first month. I guess it’s just one of those things, maybe the Southern California guy doesn’t like the cold weather or something.
Anyway, Hughes had an excuse for his slow to start to this season. He missed all of Spring Training with a bulging disk in his back and the Yankees activated him off the DL sooner than expected because the bullpen was a mess and David Phelps was needed in relief. In his first two starts, the 26-year-old Hughes looked very much like a pitcher who was shaking off the last bit of rust at the end of camp. The result was nine runs in seven total innings, plus two losses in the standings.
Phil’s last two starts have been much, much better. Two runs in seven innings against the Diamondbacks last week, then another two runs in seven innings against the division rival Rays last night. In those 14 innings he allowed 12 hits (two solo homers) and two walks while striking out a dozen. Solid but not spectacular, similar to his performance from mid-May to mid-September last year. As I mentioned in the game recap last night, Hughes pounded the zone against Tampa — first pitch strikes to 24 of 27 (!) batters faced, 78 of 109 total pitches for strikes (72%) — and that’s encouraging.
The obvious answer for the recent turnaround is simply rounding into game shape after the injury-interrupted Spring Training. Hughes did all his preparation work in simulated games and minor league contests, so he didn’t face any big leaguers or throw with any fans in the stands. nothing like that. Hardly ideal conditions really, but the back issue forced the team’s hand. For what it’s worth, Phil made no excuses about his slow start and said he was ready to go when the team stuck him in the rotation sooner than expected.
“I wouldn’t have come up in Detroit if they didn’t feel like I was ready,” said Hughes to Mark Feinsand following last night’s game. “I certainly feel like I’ve made positive steps forward since then. I was ready then, I just didn’t execute that well against Detroit and obviously terribly against Baltimore … These games count whether you got a full Spring Training or not. The first two were tough, the next two were better. Hopefully that trend continues.”
This season is a big one in a lot of ways for Hughes. The elephant in the room is him impending free agency, as his performance in the coming months will dictate whether he gets a decent contract or really breaks the bank. The team also needs him to pitch well every time out because they can’t lean on their offense as they have in the past, especially against left-handers. Not that this April has been great overall, but another truly awful showing in the season’s first month would have hurt both his free agent stock and the team’s place in the standings.
I don’t think Yankees fans are ever going to be able to separate the reality of what Hughes has become from the disappointment of what he was supposed to be, but he’s settled in as more than serviceable number four starter in recent years. Someone who will occasionally flash brilliance while generating his fair share of frustration. He shook off those dreadful first two starts to turn in two really strong outings in the last week, and that’s the kind of stuff that can get hopes up. Phil has taken some positive steps forward lately, but the Yankees don’t need him to emerge as an ace. Those days are long gone. They just need him to give them enough of a chance to win every give days, and right now that’s exactly what he’s doing.
The Yankees will skip Ivan Nova‘s turn through the rotation following last night’s rain out, Joe Girardi confirmed. Phil Hughes will start tonight as scheduled — stomach bug and weather permitting — and Nova will instead get the ball in five days.
I hope the Yankees will take this opportunity to split up Hughes and Nova in the rotation, just for the sake of easing the load on the bullpen down the road. Those two back-to-back could create some headaches. Even if they don’t do that, skipping Nova completely sure seems to indicate the team doesn’t have much faith in him in the moment. Perhaps he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are working on something on the side, but this doesn’t look like vote of confidence in the young right-hander. Hard to say it’s undeserved.