Mere days after adding Ricky Nolasco to their rotation for four years, the Minnesota Twins have signed former Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million contract – the second largest for a free agent in club history following Nolasco's four-year, $49 million pact.
Hughes has been the model of inconsistency and failed promise during his time in the Bronx. He came into the 2007 season as the number four prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America (behind Daisuke Matsuzaka, Alex Gordon, and Delmon Young, so Hughes doesn't look too bad right about now), but he's never been able to live up to that potential. Hughes made 13 starts with the Yankees in his rookie year of 2007, missing three months of time due to a strained hamstring. A fractured rib cost Hughes all but eight major league starts in 2008, but since then, he's been relatively healthy, going on the DL just twice since then.
During his major league career, Hughes has never managed to top 200 innings, and has started 30 games just once. He's had an ERA under 4.00 just once, and that came in 2009 when Hughes served primarily as a reliever for New York. What's done him in hasn't been a low strikeout total or a high walk total, but instead a propensity to allow home runs by the bucket load. Hughes has allowed at least one home run per nine innings in each of the last three seasons, and the 59 homers he's allowed over the last two seasons is tied for third in baseball with RA Dickey, behind just Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie. However, all three of those pitchers have thrown a minimum of 50 more innings than Hughes over the last two seasons.
Hughes is an extremely fly ball prone pitcher, and leaving Yankee Stadium might be for the best for him. Over his career in the Bronx, Hughes has allowed more than twice as many homers at home than on the road in only 29 1/3 more innings. On the road in 2013, Hughes allowed just seven home runs and had a 3.88 ERA – more than respectable. Heading to Target Field, which has been very friendly to pitchers during its brief history, could help Hughes tap into a small part of his vast, unrealized potential.
The Twins are better than they were a week ago after the signings of Hughes and Nolasco. When you consider that the club essentially wasted 74 starts from pitchers who finished 2013 with a fWAR of 0.0 or lower, adding Hughes and Nolasco can only help if both players stay healthy. But let's be honest here: a rotation of Nolasco, Hughes, Kevin Correia, Andrew Albers, and whoever else to fill out the end of the rotation isn't going to thrust Minnesota into contention in the AL Central. The team is going to need contributions from some of their young pitchers in addition to Hughes, Nolasco, and the holdovers from 2013 if they want to take a step forward in 2014.