1:05 pm Aug. 29, 2012
The way you view the career of Phil Hughes depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.
If you see the glass as half-empty, Hughes is already 26. He's faltered twice when given rotation spots to begin the season, in 2008 and 2010. He's never put up an x.F.I.P. below 4 as a starter, and his 4.48 mark this season ranks him 84th of 95 eligible starting pitchers.
If you see it as half-full, Hughes is logging his second full season as a starter in the Yankee rotation, along with a shutdown season as a short reliever. He's pitched to a 3.20 E.R.A. over his past 16 starts, and in a game the Yankees really needed Tuesday night, he pitched seven strong innings while utilizing his slider, a new pitch, in a 2-1 Yankees victory.
The Yankees are running out of time to figure out how they see Hughes, and whether they regard him as a building block or a cast-off.
Because he started with the Yankees so young, he's gotten rapidly more expensive. He made $3.2 million in arbitration this past winter, despite a poor season, and that number will go up significantly this winter. Next winter, Hughes will be a free agent, and if he simply repeats his 2012, he'll earn a ton of money and a multi-year deal on the free agent market.
But the Yankees have also seen nearly all of their pitching depth evaporate this year. They'll have CC Sabathia next season, that much they know. Hiroki Kuroda is a free agent after 2012, and turns 38. Andy Pettitte will be 41. Ivan Nova's E.R.A. is nearly 5, and he's currently injured. Michael Pineda missed 2012 with a shoulder injury. Prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances have each had lost seasons. Only David Phelps and Hughes have managed to stay healthy and effective all season.
In the next few weeks before the playoffs, Hughes could well be pitching for the right to be considered part of the Yankee future. As it stands now, he'd either be the third or fourth playoff starter option, depending on whether Andy Pettitte returns. It is as easy to imagine a scenario where Hughes dominates in September and etches himself into Yankee lore on a sunny October afternoon as it is to picture one in which Hughes regresses once again.
His latest start, anyway, was one for the optimists.