Phil Hughes will take the mound tonight, in what will probably be his final start as a New York Yankee.
Please, keep the applause down to a dull roar.
There will be no standing ovation. No parting gifts. No “HUUUUUGHES” chants from the crowd. Instead, there will just be a collective kick out the door. Hughes’ time in pinstripes has been so underwhelming and marked with inconsistency – almost a microcosm of this Yankees season. He used to be a bona-fide stud, a homegrown talent who was projected to start big games for years to come. Now, Yankee fans can’t wait to see him leave and it’s a shame. He could have been great.
Hughes was drafted 23rd overall in the 2004 amateur draft right out of high school. Standing at 6-foot-5 inches and 240 lbs, Hughes drew comparisons to legend Roger Clemens. He also possessed an above average fastball and a sharp 12-6 curveball, and his numbers in the minors reflected his stuff.
Hughes was on the fast track to the big leagues, and he made his debut on April 26, 2007 against Toronto – tossing 4.1 innings while giving up four runs on seven hits, with five strikeouts. He took the loss and went on to go 5-3 with a 4.46 ERA in 13 games started. In 2008, he only appeared in eight games – all starts – and went 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA. 2009 was when he really opened eyes after being moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen. Hughes was dominant and was a huge factor in the Yankees’ success that season; he pitched to a 1.40 ERA while striking out 65 in 51.1 innings.
Hughes was back in the rotation for 2010 when he had his best season as a pro. He went 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA and was named an All-Star, but he couldn’t carry that over to 2011 when he struggled with injuries and only appeared in 17 games – his ERA at 5.79.
Hughes won 16 games last season while making the most starts of his career – 32. Many projected him to have a huge season in 2013, especially since he’d be a free agent at the end of the year. Well, here we are on September 25th and Hughes is 4-13 with a 5.07 ERA; he hasn’t won a game since July 2.
His propensity for the fly ball mixed in with the jet stream at Yankee Stadium has equaled a lot of long flies which has been Hughes’ calling card for the last few seasons. He gave up 35 homers in 191.1 innings last season, and 24 in 143.2 this season. Long story short: He just isn’t made for Yankee Stadium.
With that being the case, Hughes is likely to still be overpaid this offseason. He’s still a serviceable pitcher with good stuff, and in the right situation he’ll win games. He’ll sign with a National League team that plays in a big park. Padres, Mets maybe. Or, he’ll go West where the money is and sign with the Angels, who play only a few miles from his parents and where he grew up.
There is still a chance he comes back, though. The Yankees might give him a qualifying offer which would be around $13 mil. If Hughes rejects it – and they hope he does – the Yankees would receive a compensation pick from the team that signs him. However, Hughes may feel that after such a down season, $13 mil would be the most he’ll get in a year. He could then resign, hope for a bounce back season and then cash in even more in 2015. The same theory has been talked about with Curtis Granderson, too.
Wherever he signs, his time with the Yankees will be looked back on with major disappointment. He was supposed to be the next great homegrown pitcher – the first great one since Andy Pettitte. Instead, we’ve seen flashes of greatness and flashes of sheer ineffectiveness. He’ll likely say farewell tonight, but for Yankees fans – tonight can’t come soon enough.