Offseason questions: Should Hughes get an extension?

It’s hard to believe this, but Phil Hughes will be eligible for free agency just one year from now. It doesn’t really seem possible given how young Hughes is, and how much development he still has left ahead of him, but assuming he plays in the majors for all of 2013, he’ll have a full six years of service time accrued at the end of the year, making him eligible to hit the open market. Unfortunately, that puts him right in the middle of the Yankees’ financial crossroads.

If you asked most people, I wager that they would assume Hughes would absolutely be a part of the Yankees’ austerity plans, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. Hughes really hasn’t been able to establish himself as a consistent r, reliable starter over the course of multiple seasons yet, and the Yankees had something of a stockpile of young pitching behind him. But now, with Manny Banuelos out of the question entirely following Tommy John surgery and Dellin Betances doing his best impression of Andrew Brackman, a 2014 rotation of only players under the Yankees’ control would be C.C. Sabathia, David Phelps, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and Adam Warren. That’s a dicey proposition under even the most optimistic outlooks, and it doesn’t take much to imagine Hughes as the second best starter on that hypothetical team.

The Yankees generally do not negotiate long term contracts with players before they’re eligible for free agency, especially pitchers, and there’s some merit to that approach. For one thing, it minimizes the risk of betting on the performance of young players, putting off making a costly commitment until the last possible moment. For another, the Yankees can certainly afford to take such a strategy, and unlike a lot of small market teams don’t need to entice their playrs into signing long term deals early in their careers. But with a hard cap of $189 million being put in place by ownership, and with a hefty chunk of that number already commited to players like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, Brian Cashman may need to start acting more like a small market GM, as he has decidedly less wiggle room than he’s used to. Could taking care of Hughes’ contract now while he’s still a year away from free agency be a part of that strategy.

If there’s one thing working in the Yankees’ favor here, it’s the depth of the free agent class Hughes will be competing in. If no one is locked up before next year, Bronson Arroyo, Chris Carpenter, Matt Garza, Jason Hammel, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Ricky Nolasco, and Johan Santana will all be free agents, and Jon Lester and Wandy Rodriguez could join them if their $13 million options are declined (and the buyout on Lester’s option is just $250k). That’s an unusually deep class of pitching these days, and there’s a lot of potential alternatives with higher upsides than Hughes, which could help in preventing him from being overpaid by a contender desperately looking to add pitching, or something like that. Then again, Hughes will be turning just 28 years old in June of 2014, making him at least two years younger than any of those guys. So a good (and healthy) 2013 season could make Hughes one of the most attractive choices on the market, and the Yankees could find themselves in the unthinkable position of having him priced out of their reach.

My guess is that the Yankees won’t break their policy in order to negotiate a long term deal with Hughes this winter, if only because he hasn’t demonstrated that he actually can be a solid starter year in and year out, and because he’s still got a lot of work to do in terms of refining his secondary offerings. I have no idea if they’ll live to regret that decision or not, but if they do go that route they’ll find themselves in a very unusual position for themselves if Hughes turns in a ~3 WAR season.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

18 thoughts on “Offseason questions: Should Hughes get an extension?

  1. Always though to say, but I really like Phil's attitude, agree he's not shining like "the star" but stabil regulars are good – question is if he's worth that amount of money.

  2. I've always been a Phil Hughes fan. He learned a valuable lesson in 2011 coming into camp in less than optimum condition and certainly showed flashes of brilliance in 2012. With a little more run support in a couple of games he might have won 18 or 19. Will he ever be a 1? Probably not, but he certainly is at least a 3 and has the potential to be a decent 2. Now that he's healthy and past the innings limitations, he looks to be an innings eater that can also win games. Plus he doesn't scare. At least not that you can see. I think he's a keeper. For that matter, I think Nova is worth giving another chance as well. For the most part, he was healthy. And he can throw in the 93-95 range. Just needed a bit of humility, which he got in a big dose this year.

  3. I would have to think as the article say with the in house options going forward for the Yankees starting pitchers Hughes will be a long term deal. Right now even if both Kuroda and Pettitte re-sign for the 2013 them being around for the 2014 season is almost nill. So basically that would leave the Yankees with: CC, Nova, Phelps and Hughes is a FA as it stands right now. Is there really any Yankee fan that wants to have the Yankees go into the 2014 season with: Nova, Phelps and Pineda (question mark because of his injury) as the only starters under contract for the 2014 season? Granted Hughes isn't a #1 or #2 but I think this year he proved himself a very decent #3. At least that's my opinion. If not for a couple of Nunez and Logan screw ups Hughes could have won 18 or 19 games this year.

  4. Really…. why is anyone talking about Wins? I like keeping our home grown, but as mentioned above, we have to be smart with our budget. Career wise, Phil has a 99 ERA+, 1.291 WHIP, a HR/9 over 1 and a WAR of a little over 1/yr.

    So it seems to me he is just about 'average'.
    So what's he worth? $5m – $6m yr?

  5. Not really too many people you can count on going forward. At least you know what Hughes gives you in NY. I would hope around 7 million a year for around 5 years would get it done. We don't really have many other guys waiting in the wings. Even if Kuroda and Andy come back that's only 1 year most likely. Then we might have some younger guys waiting to come up, but who knows? Hopefully Nova can be another starter, maybe Phelps, but it's a crapshoot.

  6. Isn't it a little unfair to base Hughes's WAR on "Career Numbers"? Considering in 2009 he was a set up man and had a WAR of 2.4, In 2010 he went 18-8 with a 2.4 WAR in 2011 he was injured for virtually the entire year. and This past season he went 16-13 with a WAR of 1.9
    Three of Hughes's last 4 years he generated a WAR of just about 2 or more. Conventional wisdom says each WAR point is worth about $4 to $5MM dollars. In my book that makes him worth about $9 or 10MM per based on 3 or the last 4 years.
    Let's keep in mind Hughes just turned 26 years old. And is really now just coming into his prime.

  7. He's a solid 3 starter. 2-3 WAR. He'll get $10 million over 4 years. Stupid for the Yanks to sign an extreme flyball pitcher to that contract. I'd trade him this offeason if I could get value.

  8. Hughes in San Diego, San Francisco, Florida, LA (Dodgers) or Arizona would be a near-stud pitcher. A 3.25 era would be a no-brainer. The GMs out west aren't stupid and know thi s too. Package him along with a few other good pieces (Gardner and Williams) for CarGo or Mike Stanton whie we can!

  9. I think their best bet would be to try to buy out Hughes arbitration this year with a 2 year deal for a max value of $15 million. That works for both sides – gives Hughes some security without giving up free agency a couple years shy of 30, and get the Yanks through the 2014 cap.