Thursday, December 27, 2012
Essentially there are two ways to get better: Score more or give up less. So if the Yankees are going to score less next year, then to remain a high-end contender they likely will have to give up less, as well.
That is a fragile proposition because of the age and physical questions surrounding their front three starters: CC Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte. If that trio makes 80-90 starts, then the Yankees should have a strong rotation. But to be among the best in the majors and provide greater protection against the fragility atop the rotation and the regression of the offense, the Yankees need this irony: Phil Hughes to pitch so well in 2013 that he prices himself off the team in 2014.
Hughes is a free agent after next year and this offseason has accentuated that teams will move heaven, earth, top prospects and huge paydays for starting pitching. The Royals (James Shields) and Blue Jays (R.A. Dickey) gave up huge prospect hauls for top-of-the-rotation starters. But when it comes to Hughes, the more interesting cases would be the four-year, $52 million pact Edwin Jackson received from the Cubs and the six-year, $80 million package Detroit handed Anibal Sanchez.
With a strong walk year, Hughes could make a case that he belongs somewhere in the scale between Jackson and Sanchez — who knows, maybe more. Remember that next offseason is when the Yankees are pledging to drop under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. So will they be able to sign Hughes long term? Will they even be able to put the one-year tender (roughly $13.8 million) on him, which could curtail his marketability since a signing team would lose a draft pick?
Obviously, I’m hoping Hughes has a big year. But that probably means he’s gone, because the new thrifty Yankees aren’t likely to spend the money to keep Robinson Cano and Hughes and Hughes is the more replaceable of the two. It actually wouldn’t shock me to see neither one back.
It’ll be tough to deal with after watching Hughes’s struggles and triumphs, especially if he builds on 2012 and continues to establish himself as a solid mid-rotation starter. I really don’t think he’ll ever turn into the ace we hoped he’d be, but I think the best is yet to come for him and it’ll stink if it’s happening in another team’s uniform. It’s one thing to not bid on other team’s free agents, but when you start letting your homegrown players go because of a self-imposed payroll limit you’re really risking the alienation of a segment of your fanbase.
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