Phil Hughes Rumors

Breaking Down The Hughes, Kazmir Signings

The Twins agreed to sign Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24MM deal on Saturday, which would have been the largest free agent expenditure in their history had they not committed $49MM to Ricky Nolasco a few days prior.  I don't think anyone would argue that the Twins needed to add a pitcher or two like Hughes, who has shown promise in his career and has yet to turn 28.  We know Hughes will be better away from Yankee Stadium, but it's hard to say how much better, as he's an extreme flyball pitcher no matter where he goes. 

Hughes had a serious bout of shoulder inflammation in a lost 2011 season, but he's otherwise shown good health even if he's not an innings guy.  Left alone to take his turn every fifth day in a smaller market, with the security of the first multiyear deal of his career, it's feasible that Hughes could put up 180 innings of 4.25 ball.  That would be good value for $8MM a season in today's market.  I found Hughes' decision to go for a three-year deal coming off a bad season to be an interesting one.  Prior to free agency, we've seen more and more young players choose multiyear security over maximizing their dollars going year to year.  I'm guessing Hughes would have signed one of those types of arbitration-year extensions after 2010 had he been with a more willing team.  Some pitchers will bet on their talent with a straight one-year deal and get right back out on the market, accepting the added pressure of having free agency looming again.  Others, like Francisco Liriano last offseason, hedge their bets with a two-year deal.  Hughes went for the comfort of three years, made possible in part by his youth compared to the typical free agent.

Scott Kazmir is an example of a pitcher who hedged his bet, by signing a two-year, $22MM deal with the Athletics.  It seems likely that one year at $12-13MM was available to him.  But as someone who hadn't had big league success since 2008 prior to 2013, it would have been very difficult for Kazmir to eschew multiple years in an attempt to maximize his career earnings.  As it stands, Kazmir did much better than the two-year, $16MM contract I guessed in September.  As a relatively young southpaw who returned to throwing hard and missing bats this year, Kazmir was a free agent you could dream on.  And teams love to dream in free agency, where in a limited market certain players start looking better and better.  Only in free agency can a team wipe out three or four years of data suggesting Kazmir was no longer an MLB-caliber pitcher, pointing only to his last 158 innings to project what he'll do in the next few seasons.  Kazmir still seems like a wild card for 2014-15, but $22MM is not a huge commitment for an MLB team these days.


Quick Hits: Beltran, Furcal, Mets, Twins, Ellis, Santana

The Royals are very interested in Carlos Beltran, but the Yankees remain the favorites to sign him, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. "I think at this point it would be an upset if he didn’t end up there," one executive tells Sherman. The Yankees have thus far been unwilling to give Beltran a three-year deal, but they could eventually land him by giving him three years or by paying heavily for two. Regardless of the Yankees' current issues, the perception of the Yanks as a winning organization matters to Beltran, even though they won fewer games than Kansas City did last year. Here are more notes from around the Majors.

  • Sherman writes that the Mets are no longer interested in free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal, who missed last season with Tommy John surgery, because of concerns about his health. The Mets are looking for an upgrade over Ruben Tejada at shortstop.
  • Furcal himself says that the Mets, Red Sox, Marlins, Pirates, Nationals, Rockies and other teams have shown interest in him, reports Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com (link in Spanish).
  • After failing to find common ground on a contract extension, the Padres would listen to offers for Chase Headley, Sherman reports. The question is how he should be valued — Headley hit .286/.376/.498 in a terrific 2012 season, then came back to earth with a .250/.347/.400 season in 2013.
  • Even after landing Ricky Nolasco, the Twins will continue to strongly pursue free agents and trade possibilities, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN tweets. The Twins have been connected to any number of starting pitchers, including Bronson Arroyo, Phil Hughes and trade targets Homer Bailey and Jeremy Hellickson. They've also been tied to catchers like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski.
  • The Twins aren't the only suitors for Hughes, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Royals are also making "a strong push" for the former Yankees righty. Hughes is expected to receive a two-year deal, with the Mariners and Angels potentially being involved along with the Royals and Twins. Berardino also points out that Hughes' agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, also represents Jason Vargas, who recently signed a four-year deal with Kansas City.
  • The Royals need a second baseman, and a team official recently told the Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton that the Royals think Mark Ellis "has something left" (via Twitter). Ellis, 36, hit just .270/.323/.351 last season with the Dodgers, but he's a consistently-above-average defensive player.
  • Carlos Santana of the Indians would like to play in the field more, but the Indians already have good options at catcher in Yan Gomes and at first base in Nick Swisher. Instead, then, Santana would like to try third base, and Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that the Indians are interested in the possibility, in part because Santana is taking initiative rather than complaining. (He's working out at third at the Indians' Dominican facility.) Whether Santana can field at third base is an open question — he hasn't played more than a handful of games at the position since 2006, when he was in the Dodgers' minor-league system. If the Indians have any confidence he can play there, though, they might be less inclined to pursue a righty-hitting third-base type this offseason. Lefty-hitting Lonnie Chisenhall, who struggled last season, currently sits atop the Indians' depth chart at third.

Phil Hughes In Line For Two-Year Deal

11:36am: After adding Ricky Nolasco, the Twins are likely to turn their attention to Hughes, a source tells Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

10:00am: As former Yankees starter Phil Hughes ventures out from the Bronx for the first time in his career, he is expected to be able to find a multi-year deal, reports George A. King III of the New York Post (hat tip to ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin). That, in turn, means that the Mets are likely out of the running, with King saying that the club was interested but only on a one-year deal.

A scout that King spoke with said that it would not be shocking to see Hughes land a $15MM guarantee on a two-year pact. Unlike Josh Johnson, whose agent specifically said he was seeking a one-year contract to rebuild value, Hughes is seemingly looking to max out years and earnings. According to King, teams with current interest in Hughes include his hometown Angels as well as the Twins, Mariners, and Royals. Indeed, as frustrating as Hughes has been at times, his youth, durability, and arguable upside — combined with the scarcity of pitching available — should bolster his market.  

In his profile of Hughes, MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted a one-year, $8MM deal while noting that Hughes could instead probably get a second year if he wanted to increase his guarantee. As Adams observed, Hughes would still hit the market again at under thirty years of age if he lands a second season.



Twins Rumors: Pelfrey, Nolasco, Arroyo, Bailey

A look at the latest on the Twins..

  • The Twins have made a two-year offer to Mike Pelfrey, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.  However, there's still a gap in salary that needs to be bridged.  Pelfrey returned from Tommy John surgery in 2012 to post a 5.19 ERA with 6.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a career-low 43.2 percent ground-ball rate in 152 2/3 innings.  Pelfrey's FIP (3.99) and xFIP (4.54) both suggest that his ERA could have been lower were it not for a .337 BABIP and 67.2 percent strand rate.
  • More from Heyman, who writes that the Twins have inquired on top starters like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez as well as several others lower on the free agent list, including Phil Hughes and Scott Feldman.  The club has been most heavily linked to guys like Bronson Arroyo, Ricky Nolasco, and Matt Garza to date.  Minnesota starting pitchers combined for a league worst 5.26 ERA in 2013.
  • Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN previews the Winter Meetings agenda for the Twins.  Minnesota has Nolasco atop their free agent wish list, but they'll move on if it's not at the right price.  They also like Arroyo and a source says he's seeking a three-year deal in the $27-$30MM range.
  • The Twins have told agents that they don't plan on sacrificing their second-round pick in June's amateur draft to sign a free agent, despite a public declaration stating otherwise, Wolfson writes. That would mean that Santana and Jimenez aren't in their plans. Santana's reps already have meetings set up with teams in Orlando and the Twins, as of this morning, are not on that list.
  • On the trade front, the Twins are fond of Homer Bailey, according to Wolfson. Wayne Krivsky, special assistant to GM, knows Bailey well from his days with the Reds. Krivsky took over as Cincinnati's GM two years after Bailey was drafted and was in that role when Bailey made his big league debut.
  • A Twins official "scoffed at" the idea of trading for Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello but was more receptive to the idea of a Jeremy Hellickson acquisition when asked by Wolfson about both each right-hander.

Marlins Interested In Phil Hughes, Dioner Navarro

The Marlins have called on free agent pitcher Phil Hughes and expressed interest in free agent catcher Dioner Navarro, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

It's not surprising that Miami called on Hughes, Jackson writes, because pursuing a player who had one bad year after a good one fits the club's profile.  Demand for Hughes is a fraction of what it could have been before his slide in the latter part of last season and if he can replicate his 2012, he'd likely prove to be a bargain.  The 27-year-old posted a 4.23 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in '12 but followed it up with a 5.19 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in '13.  Some peripheral stats, including xFIP (4.39) would indicate that Hughes was partially the victim of bad luck.  The Royals, Mets, and Twins are also among the clubs that have expressed interest.

Navarro, 29, hit .300/.365/.492 with a career-high 13 homers in 89 games for the Cubs last season.  The Marlins would like to add an offensively-gifted catcher to complement defensively-skilled backup Jeff Mathis and the switch-hitting backstop offers just that.  The market for Navarro hasn't quite unfolded yet but with top catcher Brian McCann off the board, the dominos could start falling soon.  The Red Sox are said to have some interest in Navarro if Jarrod Saltalamacchia, now the No. 1 available backstop, goes elsewhere.


New York Notes: Mets, Peralta, Hughes, Nathan

The Mets are currently dealing with sticker shock when looking at free agent demands, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. One example, says Puma, is Jhonny Peralta, whom the Mets initially believed they could land on a two-year deal. Peralta, however, is said to be seeking more than $45MM on at least a three-year deal. Here's more out of the Big Apple…


AL Central Rumors: Hughes, Royals, Pierzynski, Twins

The Royals are among the clubs with interest in free agent pitcher Phil Hughes, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.  Kansas City pitching coach Dave Eiland knows Hughes well from his time spent with the Yankees and is a fan of his.  A return to New York isn't in the cards as both sides recognize that a change of scenery would be best.  The latest from the AL Central…

MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post


Crasnick On Cano, Tanaka, Price, Ellsbury

ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick checked in with 21 general managers, assistant GMs, player personnel people, and scouts to get their take on some of the biggest storylines of the winter.  Here's a look at some of the highlights..

  • Almost everyone sees Robinson Cano staying put with 19 votes for the Yankees, one vote for the Dodgers, and one for the Cubs.  Nearly everyone sees Cano getting a seven- or eight-year deal worth $160MM-$230MM and no one expects him to approach the $300MM figure he was asking for from the Bombers earlier this year.  It should be noted that the GM that picked the Cubs said that he has no inside info to support that pick.
  • Nine execs see Masahiro Tanaka landing with the Dodgers while six chose the Yankees.  All but a handful of those surveyed think his payout will exceed the $60MM Yu Darvish got from the Rangers.  Tanaka is ranked as the top available pitcher by MLBTR's Tim Dierkes.
  • Seventeen of the 21 participants in the survey say David Price will get traded this winter.  Where will he land?  The Rangers got nine votes and the Dodgers got four nods with one vote each for the Nationals, Cardinals, Angels, and Astros.
  • Opinions were somewhat split on whether Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo fChoo will provide better value over the course of their next deals.  Twelve execs said Ellsbury, eight voted for Choo, and one GM declined to vote, saying that neither one will match what they get.
  • When asked to pick the best pitcher between Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez, ten execs chose Garza.  Most seemed to agree that the lack of quality starting pitching available will lead to all three being overpaid.  One American League scout seemed to like Jimenez on some level but was skeptical of him long-term.  "Ubaldo has the best chance to give you impact in the short term, but I am not buying him over the course of 3-4 years," the scout said.
  • When asked which former Yankees prospect has a better chance of succeeding elsewhere with a change of scenery, Phil Hughes was the overwhelming choice over Joba Chamberlain.
  • Crasnick asked the execs which aging pitcher had the most left in the tank between Roy Halladay, Hiroki Kuroda, and Tim Hudson.  Kuroda had the backing of 12 people surveyed, Hudson got eight votes, and Halladay had just one exec in his corner.  "Maybe the chances of [Halladay] coming back aren't real good if you look at it objectively," a scout said. "But if the guy wants to [keep pitching] and be successful, I wouldn't put it past him."

Central Notes: Bruce, Phillips, Arroyo, Johan

While Jay Bruce's agent, Matt Sosnick, said his client hasn't discussed an extension with the Reds, he didn't quash the idea either, writes Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.  "Obviously, Jay loves playing in Cincinnati. He's made it clear in the past that all things equal, he'd like to finish his career there and certainly would be open to anything," said Sosnick.  While the Reds control Bruce through 2017 with three guaranteed years at $34.5MM and a team option for $13MM, the idea of a pre-emptive extension makes sense since the slugger will only be 30 upon hitting the open market.  Here's more out of the Central divisions..

  • Passan spoke to one exec who said that Brandon Phillips is as good as "gone" in Cincinnati.  Yesterday we learned that the Yankees made a preliminary inquiry on the second baseman, but it's possible that they're simply looking for leverage in talks with Robinson Cano.
  • The Twins have expressed interest in free agent pitchers Bronson Arroyo, Phil Hughes, and Jason Vargas, sources tell Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press.  While the Twins have yet to make a formal offer to Arroyo, the interest appears to be mutual between the club and the 36-year-old.
  • The Twins have also called on Scott Kazmir and Johan Santana, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN.
  • Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network (video link) spoke with Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer about dealing with trade speculation and the possibility of hammering out an extension.
  • It might not have made a difference, but the Red Sox weren't showing any indication that they were ready to let Torey Lovullo go to the Cubs, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).  The Cubs agreed not to poach personnel from the Red Sox after Theo Epstein left to take over their operations.

Free Agent Profile: Phil Hughes

Not long ago, the thought of Phil Hughes hitting free agency at age 27 would have come with lofty contract expectations. The former No. 4 overall prospect in the game, per Baseball America, enjoyed a dominant season in the bullpen with the 2009 Yankees en route to a World Series title. He followed it up with a solid 4.19 ERA in 176 2/3 innings in the rotation at age 24 — a season in which he earned his first All-Star nod. It's been mostly a downhill ride for Hughes since that point, however, and he'll head into free agency having posted an ERA north of 5.00 in two of his past three seasons.

Strengths/Pros

Through all his ups and downs, Hughes has steadily maintained solid control. He's averaged 2.7 walks per nine innings from 2010-13 (a span of 674 innings pitched). Part of the reason he's able to limit walks is because of the way that he attacks hitters. Hughes-PhilAmong qualified starters over that same four-year stretch, only Cliff Lee, Tommy Milone and Kevin Slowey have thrown a first-pitch strike at a higher rate than Hughes' 66.7 percent.

Additionally, his 7.6 K/9 rate over the past two seasons is a tick above the league average for starting pitchers (7.2). Hughes' 2.95 K/BB ratio ranks 13th out of the 41 potential free agent starters with more than 50 innings pitched this season.

He also compares favorably to his competition in terms of fastball velocity. Using the same criteria, Hughes' average fastball — 92.4 mph — ties him with Ervin Santana and Mike Pelfrey for eighth highest among potential free agent starters (or seventh if you want to remove Jon Lester, whose option is sure to be exercised, from the list).

Likely the most appealing factor for Hughes' suitors will be the fact that he's actually been a very solid pitcher away from Yankee Stadium. Hughes checked in with a 5.19 ERA overall in 2013, but that was due to a bloated 6.32 ERA when pitching in the Bronx. On the road, Hughes posted a 3.88 ERA. Over the past four seasons, Hughes has a 4.11 ERA and 3.80 FIP on the road compared to a 5.12 ERA and 5.02 FIP at home. As a right-handed fly-ball pitcher, Yankee Stadium (and its short porch in right field) is perhaps the worst possible setting for Hughes.

Hughes is the youngest free agent starter on the market, and while at one point there was talk of the Yankees extending a qualifying offer for that reason, the Yankees don't figure to bring Hughes back for $14.1MM. He won't cost his new team a draft pick.

Weaknesses/Cons

Hughes' home struggles can't simply be written off. No matter where he signs this offseason, he's going to have to pitch some games in hitter-friendly stadiums, and those are daunting settings for a pitcher with the sixth-lowest ground-ball rate in all of baseball over the past four seasons (33 percent).

While he's just 27, Hughes has some injury baggage on his resume already. He missed nearly half the season in 2011 with inflammation and fatigue in his right shoulder, and he has a history of back issues. Hughes dealt with a herniated disk in his back as a minor leaguer, and he's missed small amounts of time with back-related injuries since. He also had a stress fracture in his rib that cost him nearly all of the 2008 season.

Hughes has only topped 100 innings three times in his career, and he's never reached 200 frames. And, in two of those three 100+ innings seasons, he's significantly faded down the stretch. After a 4.57 first-half ERA in 2013, he faded with a 6.32 ERA in the season's second half. In 2010, his ERA sat at 3.65 at the All-Star break, but he limped to the finish with a second-half ERA of 4.90. Hughes' injury troubles, low innings totals and second-half struggles in seasons with a full starter's workload will give teams serious concerns about his durability.

Personal

Hughes is a devout Christian and has the bible verse "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" tattooed on his left arm. As he explained to Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated back in 2009, Hughes actually got the tattoo while on a road trip to Atlanta. In his free time, one of Hughes' favorite hobbies is cooking.

Market

After six years at Yankee Stadium, it seems unlikely that Hughes would opt to pitch for a team in a hitter-friendly environment. Teams in spacious home parks will likely appeal to Hughes, and it was already reported over the summer that the Twins are expected to be interested. Target Field in Minneapolis is plenty spacious, and they liked him when discussing trade packages for Johan Santana all the way back in the 2007-08 offseason.

While Hughes was quoted as saying he wouldn't immediately disregard an offer to pitch out of a team's bullpen, he clarified shortly after that his strong preference was to remain in a starting role for as long as he can. Even with his struggles at home, he shouldn't have a problem doing so.

A move to the National League could be beneficial to Hughes, who is a native of Mission Viejo, Calif. His hometown is located just 75 miles north of San Diego and 48 miles south of Los Angeles, so geographically speaking, the Padres, Dodgers and Angels may be appealing. If he's willing to pitch further north, I'd imagine the Giants and Mariners to be another pair of West Coast teams that would have interest. We've seen the Pirates buy low on talented hurlers like Francisco Liriano and (former Yankee) A.J. Burnett recently. The Nationals have done the same, albeit with less success, in signing Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren.

Expected Contract

It's rare that a starting pitcher hits free agency at such a young age, but Hughes doesn't have much of a track record on his side at this time. In fact, in a recent edition of MLBTR's Free Agent Faceoff, nearly 72 percent of the 8,000+ respondents said they'd rather sign Scott Kazmir as a free agent this offseason, despite Kazmir's own spotty track record.

Hughes could look to follow Jackson's lead and sign a one-year, make-good deal before cashing in on a multiyear contract, or he could prefer to take whatever two-year deal is on the table for him to maximize his earnings. We saw Francisco Liriano take the latter approach last offseason, and I'd expect Hughes to have an opportunity at a two-year deal with a modest annual value as well.

A rebound campaign in 2014 would set Hughes up as a desirable arm entering his age-28 season on next year's free agent market. I wouldn't be surprised to see him go the Liriano route and ink a two-year contract (he'd still be able to hit free agency again at age 29), but my prediction is that Hughes will sign a one-year, $8MM contract this winter.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.