Phil Hughes received his Christmas gift a few days early this year.
The Twins and Hughes agreed on a three-year, $42 million extension this morning that locks Hughes up through the 2019 season.
The extension turns his current deal into a five-year, $58 million contract – the largest for a pitcher in team history – and includes a limited no-trade clause and roughly $1 million in incentives.
Hughes, 28, was excellent in 2014, posting a career year in Minnesota where he won 16 games with a 3.52 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, and 182/16 K/BB ratio in 209.2 innings. Advanced metrics indicate those numbers could have been even better as his FIP was an ace-like 2.65. He posted a 112 ERA+ and was worth 4.3 WAR on the season.
Last offseason, Hughes was coming off a train wreck season with the New York Yankees when he signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Twins. He clearly bounced back in a big way after moving away from Yankee Stadium and the potent bats of the American League East, but one has to wonder if this extension was a bit premature.
In his four full seasons as a starter prior to 2014, Hughes posted an abysmal 4.64 ERA, 1.336 WHIP, 4.46 FIP, 91 ERA+, with a 479/173 K/BB ratio in 588 innings. All-in-all he was worth just 3.1 WAR over those four seasons combined. As a point of reference, those numbers are unnervingly similar to the stats posted by the likes of Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey in their four years prior to joining the Twins.
There are, however, some caveats to those numbers. Hughes was obviously pitching in a tougher hitting division – although the American League Central is quickly loading up with firepower this offseason – and in a stadium that was tailor-made to induce the long-ball.
The upshot is that even if Hughes does take a step backwards over the duration of the contract – while $42 million certainly isn’t chump change – he won’t be making “ace” money at any point in the new deal and the Twins overall spending shouldn’t be severely hampered with this contract on the books.
The extension bumps his salary for 2015 and 2016 from $8 million to $9.2 million and pays him $13.2/year from 2017-2019. It’s not big money, especially in light of the deals the club has signed with Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana, but it seems like a hearty investment for a player lacking a track record for sustained success.
The Twins have signed players coming off career years in the past – Joe Mauer and the aforementioned Nolasco immediately come to mind – with the expectation that the outlier was the new norm, only to be disappointed when the player underachieved.
Additionally, the ever-fickle Minnesota fan base has proven to be less-than-forgiving with players who fail to replicate the numbers that earned them a big pay day and it will be interesting to see how Twins fans react if/when Hughes regresses over the life of the contract.
Ultimately, it was a now or not at all situation for the Twins. Hughes had a great year in Minnesota and if he was able to duplicate that again in 2015, he’d be very likely to bolt via free agency after 2016 and sign for more money elsewhere.
He’s still relatively cheap, based on the current going rate for starters, and if he’s able to keep his ERA under 4.00 and stay healthy, he’ll provide a solid return on investment.
If he returns to the player he was in New York, expect to hear a lot about this extension from disgruntled Twins fans for the next half-decade.
I’m optimistic for the former, but mentally preparing for the latter.