A former first round draft pick and number four overall prospect, Phil Hughes hoped to be getting a big payday when he first hit free agency this winter. After years of disappointing results followed years of hype for the Yankees, the big righty will instead be looked at as a back-end starter this offseason.
Hughes is only 27 years old and has at least proven he can be a near-league-average starter in the tough American League East. One of his biggest weaknesses, home runs, was probably worsened by his home ballpark.
Other than his home run rate, his 2013 numbers were acceptable, albeit a little underwhelming (7.48 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.59 walks per nine innings, 4.39 xFIP in 145⅔ innings pitched). Hughes’s main problem was a league-worst 30.8 ground ball rate amongst pitchers with at least 140 innings logged.
Leaving Yankee Stadium will help Hughes keep a few balls in the park, but he won’t take any major steps forward until he learns to keep the ball on the ground. That doesn’t look too likely after 780⅔ career innings pitched with a 33.6 ground ball.
Hughes won’t be too pricey, but that could make him a desirable fourth or fifth starter for a lot of teams. Few expect that he will regain his former prospect glory, but a change of leagues or a move to a bigger ballpark could improve his numbers, even if he doesn’t actually improve as a pitcher.
The FanGraphs crowd expects Hughes to get a two-year, $15.8 million contract. Hughes is still young, and he might want a longer deal, but he also might be happy to accept a modest offer if the market cools on him. If the right situation presents itself, Hughes and his agent might look for a one-year, $10 million deal and try again next offseason.
A move to the National League and Citi Field could help Hughes establish some value on a one-year deal and provide the Mets with a back-end starter with a small bit of upside. But the team needs a big offseason to compete in 2014, and without other impact acquisitions around him, Hughes is hardly enough to move the needle. If the goal is to compete in 2014, then Hughes probably falls down the list of desirable starters. A one-year deal could always make sense with the intention of flipping him at the deadline, but if the price is right many other teams should think the same way, and a deal might not be worth the risk or heightened value.