Posted on May 22, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Minnesota Twins announced late Monday night that they have designated veteran pitcher Phil Hughes for assignment. The move was not a shock considering Hughes’ performance this season. However, it was a surprise considering Hughes is under contract through the end of next season. The Twins will effectively swallow more than $22 million by parting ways with Hughes right now, a curious move for the small-market Twins.
“It was time as far as we were concerned,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said Monday. “That’s not my part of the game, but it’s a guaranteed contract through the end of next year.”
After spending the early part of his career with the Yankees, Hughes signed with the Twins prior to the 2014 season, inking a three-year, $24 million deal. He proceeded to go 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 2014, prompting the Twins to give him a three-year extension worth $42 million. However, Hughes’ performance would start to decline after signing that extension.
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In 2015, the Twins were expecting Hughes to be the leader of their rotation. However, he was a modest 11-9 with a 4.40 ERA. The following season, a knee injury sidelined Hughes in early June. Later that month, it was discovered that Hughes required surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Hughes returned from the surgery in 2017 but struggled to get on track. He posted a 5.74 ERA in nine starts before going on the DL with biceps tendinitis. When he returned from that injury, he did so as a member of the bullpen. However, issues related to thoracic outlet syndrome lingered and Hughes was shut down for the season after five relief outings.
The Twins were hopeful heading into 2018 that enough time had passed from the initial thoracic outlet surgery for Hughes to become a viable pitcher once again. But that was not the case. After two abbreviated starts in late April, Hughes was once again moved to the bullpen. Five relief appearances later, the Twins no longer view him as worthy of a roster spot.
“I’ve been around Phil for a long time,” Molitor said of the veteran. “He’s worked really hard. He’s been through a lot physically. He’s had to endure a lot of rehabs. We probably saw him at his best his first year over here. It’s been a tough road for him since then. I thanked him for the effort that he’s given me and the times he’s taken the ball, and I hope something happens in a positive fashion for him moving forward.”
The Twins did not ask Hughes to accept a minor league assignment. The club will have a week to find a trade partner for Hughes, which is unlikely with so much money left on his contract. He’ll likely pass through waivers and end up a free agent, hoping to catch on with another team.
Hughes’ story is not that different from that of Matt Harvey. Both underwent thoracic outlet surgery and had difficulty staying healthy and regaining their pre-surgery form. Harvey, like Hughes, ended up being designated for assignment. However, while Harvey got another chance with the Reds to turn things around, Hughes may not be so lucky. The best-case scenario for Hughes may be signing a minor league deal. Even then, there’s no guarantee Hughes will be able to work his way back to the majors.