Phil Hughes is disciplined enough to remain in the here and now, avoiding thoughts of that stairway to heaven otherwise known as free agency. There’s a monsoon of wealth just around the corner, but Hughes is thinking more about his change-up than where the meter might drop on his next contract – say, $15 million to $17 million per.
Actually, it’s the Yankees who are sweating the dollars, squeezed by the uncomfortable thought of not being able to afford Hughes in 2014. While team officials have quietly begun negotiations with Robinson Cano, the question of what to do about Hughes is nearly as daunting, if only because the right-hander has been an enigma throughout his career.
If Hughes really is the 16-game winner who posted career bests in innings and strikeouts last year, allowing his fewest walks per nine innings while shaving nearly a 1.5 runs off his ERA from 2012, the Bombers indeed are in trouble – especially if there’s a hard ceiling on that $189 million payroll in ’14.
There’s no shortage of general managers who’d consider Hughes a winning Powerball ticket next winter, particularly in the National League. The Dodgers are running an economy larger than China’s and could take on Hughes without putting a dent in their portfolio. But it’s the Central Division – think: Brewers or Reds – where he could be dominant.
That is, if Hughes would dare end his marriage to the Yankees. At 26, he’s as loyal to the pinstripes as you’d expect – he’s been in the organization since turning 17, and knows no other employers. Hughes is utterly convincing when he says, “The Yankees are the ones who drafted me; they’re like a second family. For me to say I’d be neutral [about leaving New York] would be dishonest.”
The Yankees know Hughes wants to stay; he loves the energy, the attention and the delirium of winning a championship in these parts. In a perfect world, Hughes has another solid, injury-free season in 2013, and the Yankees reward him with a long-term deal that takes him well into his 30s.
But don’t hold your breath, and not just because the Yankees are waiting to see how much it would take to keep Cano from defecting to Los Angeles. Hughes has broken the Bombers’ hearts several times since 2007, allowing his ERA to balloon to 6.62 in 2008, then succumbing to a mysterious shoulder injury in 2011, when he lost his fastball and spent most of the first two months on the disabled list.
Phil Hughes is making payoff pitch for 2014
Bergen Record | Feb 15