Phil Hughes Rumors

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.


Free Agent Faceoff: Scott Kazmir vs. Phil Hughes

For today's Free Agent Faceoff entry, we'll take a look at Scott Kazmir and Phil Hughes, two formerly heralded prospects who enter the free-agent market this offseason with big question marks.

Kazmir emerged from obscurity this season to put together a respectable 4.14-ERA, 152-inning campaign for the Indians. That ERA wasn't a fluke, as Kazmir also posted a K/9 of 8.9 and a BB/9 of 2.7. The second figure is particularly impressive, as it's easily the lowest of Kazmir's career. As a left-hander who misses bats, suppresses walks and averages 92.1 mph on his fastball, Kazmir would potentially be in line for a multi-year deal with annual eight-digit salaries if he had a stronger recent track record. However, around this time last year, Kazmir was pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters in independent ball. He also struggled with efficiency throughout the season, averaging less than six innings per start.

There was talk earlier in the year of a qualifying offer for Hughes, but that possibility has evaporated after another disappointing season for the 6' 5", 240-pound right-hander. In a final line that's perhaps representative of his checkered career, Hughes posted a 5.19 ERA in 145 2/3 innings despite a 2.88 K/BB ratio that places him in the same range as starters such as Derek Holland and James Shields. As has often been the case for Hughes, otherwise good results were dragged down by an inability to keep the ball in the park. Hughes posted a 1.48 HR/9 this year, ranking among the league leaders. Given his natural fly-ball tendencies (career 33.6 percent GB rate), a team with a more spacious ballpark than Yankee Stadium could target Hughes as a buy-low candidate.

The major knock on Kazmir is the bizarre trajectory his career has taken. There's just not many comparables for the 29-year-old, a former top young starter who appeared to be out of baseball but re-emerged this season to post a 3.36 K/BB ratio in 152 innings. Hughes, 27, has always inspired optimism, but he's never developed into the dominant starting pitcher that many projected based on his size and stuff.



Yankees Rumors: Hughes, Jeter, Cano, Sabathia

There was talk earlier this year of the Yankees giving Phil Hughes a qualifying offer at the end of the season in order to either retain him or secure a draft pick in the event that he signed elsewhere.  However, that ship has pretty much sailed at this point.  "They may make a qualifying offer. And I may run for president," a rival GM told Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com last week.  Here's more out of the Bronx..

  • Many in baseball speculated that Derek Jeter would decline his $9.5MM option for 2014 and force the Yankees to give him a new deal, but a friend of the shortstop told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News that he thinks he'll exercise the option and return with a sense of purpose. Feinsand notes that Jeter probably wouldn't have the public on his side as he did three years ago and, more importantly, no one is clamoring to give a 39-year-old shortstop more than $9.5MM.
  • The Yankees want Robinson Cano back in pinstripes next season, but team president Randy Levine made it clear there's a limit as to how far they'll go.  “[Cano] is a great player,” Levine told Bloomberg Television, according to Feinsand. “We will sit down and talk to him. Hopefully he’s a Yankee. Nobody is a re-sign at all costs, but we want him back and we feel good about negotiating something with him. But nobody is a re-sign at any cost.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that the Yankees can ill-afford to see CC Sabathia's regression to No. 4 starter come when he has at least three years and $76MM on his contract. The Yankees anticipated such an occurence might happen toward the end of his New York tenure but thought they'd have capable replacements in Michael Pineda, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, but none have panned out. Their dearth of pitching talent clouds their goal of staying under the $189MM luxury tax threshhold, Sherman adds.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


New York Notes: Backman, Hughes, Rodriguez

As we ease into the evening's slate of ballgames, here are a few quick notes on the two ballclubs that call New York home:

  • If the Mets retain manager Terry Collins next season, as is widely expected, the team could stand to lose Triple-A manager Wally Backmanwrites the New York Post's Mike Puma. Backman, who was a finalist for Collins's job, could look elsewhere to advance his career if he isn't given a seat in the New York dugout.
  • The notion of the Yankees giving struggling starter Phil Hughes a qualifying offer at year end has gone from plausible to laughable, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. While GM Brian Cashman was reportedly telling other clubs at the trade deadline that a QO was a serious consideration, a competing GM now tells Heyman: "They may make a qualifying offer. And I may run for president."
  • A schedule has been set for hearing Alex Rodriguez's appeal of his 211-game suspension, reports Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com. If the Yankees fail to qualify for the postseason, the proceedings will begin on September 30th, the day after the regular season ends. If the Yanks sneak back in, a delay would be likely since Rodriguez is entitled to be personally present. At least 45 more days are expected to be needed for a decision. Of course, the longer it takes to resolve the situation, the longer the New York front office will remain in the dark on how much money it will save on the rest of A-Rod's deal. 

Quick Hits: Scully, Martinez, Twins, Phillies

The Dodgers' latest move is one we can all celebrate: the team announced yesterday that incomparable broadcaster Vin Scully will return to the Dodger booth next year for the 65th straight season. As usual, Scully dropped some wisdom on the occasion: "Just the thought of walking away from it to retirement — and looking out the window or something? It's just too good." Indeed, it is. Elsewhere around the game …

  • With starting backstop Alex Avila still working back from a concussion after scuffling for most of the year, the division-leading Tigers might have found themselves scrambling to add catching depth. Instead, the club made a risky move that could pay long-term dividends, putting primary DH Victor Martinez back behind the dish for the first time since August of 2011. The initial returns were positive, and the club could suit Martinez up for interleague matchups down the stretch or in a hypothetical World Series.
  • Always productive on Saturday mornings, Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com offered a spirited defense of the Twins' decision not to bring in any high-priced starters last year. (All links to Twitter.) Rejecting the suggestion that Minnesota should have signed Anibal Sanchez and pointing to the Royals' acquisition of James Shields as an ill-advised, premature plunge, Mackey summed things up with a broader philosophy for a small-market team like the Twins: "Draft. Develop. Sell high. Supplement your core with smart spending. Lock players in before arbitration. Avoid stupid contracts." 
  • For next season, Mackey further tweets, Phil Hughes could be a nice target for Minnesota. The suggestion could make sense, given Hughes' youth, the potential to buy low, and Target Field's home run suppression.
  • The Phillies, needless to say, face a number of questions as they finish out a second-straight disappointing season with an aging core. Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer took an interesting look at one major forthcoming task for GM Ruben Amaro Jr.: "completely rebuilding one of baseball's worst bullpens." In his tenure as GM, Brookover notes, Amaro has signed seven free-agent set-up men or middle relievers for a combined $22.85MM (not including year two of the Mike Adams deal). They have combined for a 4.76 ERA. Neither has the organization been successful at developing its own bullpen arms, says Brookover, who does note that some current youngsters — in particular, Jake Diekman — offer hope. 
  • Looking ahead to 2014, Amaro seemed to imply that the Phils will likely be shopping for turnaround candidates in the free agent market. "Sometimes you have to be lucky to get those guys," Amaro said. "There are times when even a change of scenery can help someone. Those are the kinds of things we will look for."