WHAT IF ... Phil Hughes had a good year in 2013?
Let's go backwards for a second. Phil Hughes just signed a three-year, $24-million deal with the Minnesota Twins. This is a pretty big payday, and would lead you to think that it's a reward for a respectable season in 2013. Well, that's wrong. Very, very wrong.
Hughes started 29 games in 2013, losing 14 and winning only four of them. He had almost a complete workload for a starting pitcher except for the fact that he left so many games early that he only threw 145 innings. He gave up 24 home runs and ended up with a 5.19 ERA. In a contract season and in his prime, Hughes could not have performed any worse.
Imagine though, for a second, that Hughes HAD pitched well. We're not talking about a Cy Young season, but how about his 162 game average? If he had gone 12-11 with a 4.54 ERA, things would have gone very differently. And what if he had a repeat of 2010, when he went 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.2 WHIP?
Here is, in my opinion, the answer to the "what if" in either scenario: Phil Hughes might still be a Yankee, and he'd surely be making a lot more money no matter what team he signed with. I don't think they would have re-signed him mid-season, but they absolutely could have signed him this offseason especially in such a weak starting pitching market. Hiroki Kuroda, who is about to turn 40, was just given a deal from the Yankees in which he will earn $16 million next season. Hughes, who is 27 and should be in his prime, would have garnered a similar yearly salary if 2013 had been a successful year.
Quick side note: it's impossible to accurately predict whether or not a successful 2013 for Hughes could have brought the Yankees to the postseason. It certainly would have helped, but considering their serious battle with injuries, it's doubtful. This particular "what if" is more about the individual than the team's playoff hopes.
Think about it: Hughes would have been considered a decently successful pitcher in Yankee Stadium pitching against the AL East, and would have been available in his twenties. It's still very possible that other teams would have paid Hughes more and he would have left the Yankees anyway, but it's amazing to think about how much more money Hughes could have made if he could have just been AVERAGE in 2013! It's not impossible that Hughes and his agency, CAA, would have been asking for a five-year deal worth around $55-60 million. Because of his young age, it would have been an easy sell to teams thin on pitching. He would be 32 at the end of the deal … big whoop!
Remember, Phil Hughes was drafted in the first round by the Yankees in 2004 and was once their most highly touted prospect. Almost a decade later, the Twins are paying Hughes for nothing more than potential. They are hoping that the change of scenery will turn Hughes back into the star he once was. The bigger ballpark doesn't hurt, but I'm sure the Twins know that Hughes' performance last season would have been bad in ANY ballpark.
In the end, New York was not the right place for Hughes, not because of the media or scrutiny -- because he handled both beautifully -- but because of the short porch and hitter-friendly ballpark. But what makes this "what if" so interesting is that the Yankees might have forgotten all about that issue if 2013 had gone differently. Brian Cashman might have accepted his tendency to give up the long ball and re-signed Hughes because of his tenure in the AL East and his proven ability to stand in front of his locker and handle the New York media.
If you're a fan of Phil Hughes, you should still be happy. He signed a very good contract in a very big ballpark and it's possible that Hughes will be a great success in Minnesota.
Sometimes, though, it's just fun to ask. …"What if?"