The Astros announced that right-hander Jared Hughes has been released. Hughes requested the move, as per the opt-out terms in his minor league deal with the team.
Hughes joined the Astros last month, on a minors deal that would have paid him $1.5MM if he had made the big league roster. Hughes’ opt-out date was yesterday, and he chose to look for opportunities elsewhere since Houston didn’t put him on their 40-man roster. Hughes posted only a 6.35 ERA over 5 2/3 spring innings, which could have impacted the team’s decision (though The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan expressed surprise at Houston’s decision).
The small Spring Training sample size aside, Hughes has posted very solid numbers over nine MLB seasons and 519 career relief innings. The 34-year-old has a career 2.88 ERA despite not missing many bats (6.07 K/9) thanks to an outstanding ability to generate grounder, with a 61.5% career groundball rate. It’s a skillset that has left Hughes perhaps a bit undervalued, as he has been non-tendered, released, and claimed on waivers within the last three years, and his firmest bit of security was a two-year, $4.5MM free agent deal with the Reds in the 2017-18 offseason.
2019 saw Hughes post a 4.04 ERA over 71 1/3 innings for the Reds and Phillies, easily the highest ERA of his eight full big league seasons. A big spike in his home run total (1.6 HR/9) was the most obvious reason for that 4.04 number, though Hughes also benefited from a .228 BABIP, which particularly aided such an extreme groundball pitcher.
Hughes now heads into perhaps the most uncertain open market in baseball history, as free agents face even more questions than the average affiliated player given the league shutdown. His track record should get him some attention from other teams, particularly defensively-adept squads that could best benefit from Hughes’ grounder-heavy arsenal.