Price Gouging With Phil Hughes

As the trade deadline creeps closer, we’re learning more and more about who is available this July. It’s becoming clear that pitchers are yet again in huge demand, and the circumstances are leading to extremely high asking prices on starting pitching. Buster Olney called it “Zack Wheeler Syndrome”, but it’s basically just price gouging.

Phil Hughes

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Back in 2011, the market for sluggers was in extremely high demand, and the Mets turned two and a half months of Carlos Beltran into six years of Zack Wheeler. Since then, the introduction of the second wild card has increased the number of buyers on the trade market. Theoretically, there should be fewer players available this July. Just as basic economics says, supply is down and demand is up.

In Olney’s piece on this current trend, he mentions specifically that the Yankees’ demands for starting pitcher Phil Hughes are “incredibly high” and “astronomical”. To many Yankee fans, this is a surprise. Not only that the Yankees could sell on Hughes, but that they would expect such a return on a pitcher that’s largely been league average over the last few years.

Obviously, there’s a lot I could write about Hughes’ upside, his past top prospect potential, and his evolution as a pitcher, but I’ve written too many of those pieces, and Yankee fans have read too many of these stories. It looks like the Yankees are ready to close the book on Hughes, having grown too tired of hoping his home run rates would settle down in one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball.

Surprisingly, Hughes has value, and perhaps a lot of it. Like how the Yankees recognized that Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher would benefit from a change of scenery, other teams see that Hughes would probably be much more successful in a different ballpark. His career ERA on the road is .73 points lower than at home, batters are slugging nearly .100 points lower outside of Yankee Stadium, and yet these numbers are largely still influenced by other hitter friendly ballparks in the AL East. Putting Hughes on the West Coast would provide him with a much bigger margin for error.

But that’s not the end of the story. Even with splits indicating that Hughes would succeed outside of Yankee Stadium, the trade market could provide an even bigger boost in his value. The top pitcher on the market is Matt Garza, but after that, Hughes very well could be the top available starter. Yovani Gallardo may or may not be available, and his home and away splits are actually opposite of Phil Hughes. Add to this that Gallardo has seen a significant drop in velocity over the last two years, a rise in line drives, and a continued dependence on ground balls, and it’s hard to imagine that teams are willing to take the same risks on a player that might not benefit from a change of scenery.

So the Yankees arguably own the second or third most valuable starting pitcher this trade deadline, and with an excess of pitching in Michael Pineda, David Phelps, and Ivan Nova, Cashman looks ready to sell on at least one piece.

Mike is the co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money. Outside of blogging baseball, Mike is also a musician, a runner, and a beer lover.