The Phil Hughes Dilemma

It’s amazing it has come to this, but the Yankees are going to lose Phil Hughes after this season and receive nothing in return. Before the 2013 season started, I think everyone expected that however Hughes pitched, he would pitch well enough that the Yankees could easily offer him arbitration and therefore receive a draft pick if he left, secure in the knowledge that he wouldn’t take it. Now, I don’t think they can make that gamble. If they offered him arbitration, I think he would absolutely accept it and then the Yankees would be on the hook to pay him around $14-million next year. You can argue he would turn it down, but  a 4-13 record with a 5-ish ERA isn’t going to let you break the bank and teams are going to be very reluctant to sign him if he costs them a first-round draft pick.  Hughes could take $14-million or so from the Yankees in 2014 and take another shot at putting himself in a spot for a big contract in 2015.

The Yankees can’t take that risk especially with the $189-million goal, and it most likely means they lose Hughes for nothing. If he becomes a free agent, I guarantee he will find somewhere to play where fly balls don’t fly as far as they do in the Bronx. He may take a small deal, but he will take it somewhere that can set him up for a bigger one and that won’t be New York.

So if the Yankees are going to lose him anyway at the end of the year, why not trade him for something right now? I can think of three reasons that it makes sense.

1- The Yankees would get a return, however small it may be, on Hughes

2- The Yankees woud clear his rotation spot for Adam Warren.

3- Hughes isn’t helping them win right now.

There is risk involved of course. For one thing, Warren might stink. For another, there is almost nothing left in the minors depth-wise if a starter were to get hurt. (Let’s face it, the Yankees probably would have replaced Hughes a few turns ago if they had better alternatives) But the alternative is to move Hughes to the bullpen and let him throw in low-leverage spots for the next month before slipping quietly out of town this fall.

Whatever happens, we are watching the final weeks of Hughes and Joba time with the Yankees play out in a way we once thought was impossible.