March 31: Hughes has cleared release waivers and is now officially a free agent, the Pirates announced on Friday.
March 29: The Pirates have requested release waivers on righty Jared Hughes, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The team has since announced the move, noting that Hughes first cleared outright waivers. Pittsburgh had previously agreed to a $2.825MM arbitration with Hughes and will remain responsible for at least a portion of that amount — roughly $695K — unless another team places a claim (which seems unlikely, considering the fact that he’s already cleared outright waivers).
Hughes, 31, has turned in stellar results over the past three seasons, working to a 2.41 ERA across 190 2/3 frames. Though he has recorded only 5.0 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in that span, he has continued to draw grounders on about three of every five balls put in play against him.
Hughes largely continued to perform last year, which he ended with a 3.03 ERA, but there were some signs of trouble. His ground-ball rate fell to 57.9 percent after sitting at over 60 percent in the preceding two years, and he allowed a career-high 0.91 homers per nine innings pitched. And while he logged the second-best average fastball velocity of his career (93.0 mph), Hughes also allowed more hard contact (30.1 percent) and drew fewer swinging strikes (9.6 percent) than ever before. His control, too, trended in the wrong direction, as his BB/9 rate rose from 2.6 in 2015 to 3.3 in 2016.
Still, it wasn’t especially surprising to see Pittsburgh agree to terms at a fairly modest sum rather than non-tendering the veteran reliever. The concerns escalated this spring, though. Over 9 1/3 innings, Hughes was knocked around for a dozen earned runs on 16 hits while recording just five strikeouts against four walks.