Via Andy McCullough –
As Phil Hughes ascended the ranks of the Yankees system, a nine-year journey from first-round pick to mid-rotation fixture, he observed countless indicators of his team’s philosophy. The policy on contract extensions is all but rock-solid.
“Coming up with this organization as a pitcher, you know you’re not going to be signed long-term before (free agency),” Hughes said. “Nobody tells you. You just know. No pitcher is getting a long-term deal before free agency.”
The topic of an extension was hardly mentioned as Hughes negotiated his one-year, $7.15 million deal for 2013. He understands the team’s zeal for reducing the payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014. Hughes insisted yesterday he has little worry about impending free agency. All he desires is “health and consistency.”
For Hughes (16-13, 4.23 ERA in 2012), both have been fleeting. In what may be his final year as a Yankee, the organization which once prized him as a future star, he has yet to fulfill that promise. But he has at least one year left.
On the advice of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Hughes focused this offseason on increasing his flexibility and mobility. Hughes hopes to marry the physicality he displayed earlier in his career with the guile he has acquired during six big-league seasons. Manager Joe Girardi wants Hughes to refine his efficiency and polish the usage of his changeup. “That’s the natural progression, for me,” Girardi said.
As a free agent next year, Hughes presents a complex case. His ERA is 4.48 since 2010. He has never thrown 200 innings in a season (he threw a career-high 191⅓ innings last season). In three separate seasons, he has spent more than 70 games on the disabled list. He surrendered 35 homers last season — only Angels castoff Ervin Santana allowed more.
Yet he won’t turn 27 until June, making him a relative adolescent among the usual cast of free agents in their 30s. He finished 2012 with an encouraging, career-best 3.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio. After an abysmal first two months, he rallied to post a 3.70 ERA in his final 22 starts.
He is learning as he ages, looking to improve his mental approach while retaining his physical ability. Hughes chuckled when discussing the physical toil of professional baseball. “Pitching,” he said with a laugh, “was just easier when I was younger.”
And, via Jon Heyman –
The Yankees recently began multiyear contract negotiations with star second baseman Robinson Cano, but a resolution appears nowhere in sight.
Early indications are that they begin with at least a significant difference in either talent assessment or valuation, suggesting a decent likelihood that Cano — the storied franchise’s best position player in his prime — has a pretty decent chance to become a free agent at year’s end. While the sides won’t admit he’s sure to hit free agency, at the very least it’s clear there’s plenty of work to do.
Word is, early on the team has suggested they considered Cano a “top 10″ or maybe at worst a top 15 player in the game, while Cano, following three straight top-six finishes in American League MVP voting, seems to be thinking a bit higher than that.
“There are few elite players. That just is a very short list — less than five,” Cano’s agent Scott Boras said by phone of his client.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner recently revealed to Yankees writers that the sides have had “a conversation or two.” But left unsaid at the time is where things stand.
“Robinson is happy being a Yankee, and both sides recognize that this is one of the elite players in the game,” Boras said.
Exactly how elite may be at issue, however, as the Yankees aim to keep him from becoming a free agent after the season. This isn’t going to be a short process, however, and it appears it will take some major concessions from one or both sides to beat the deadline to get him signed before his free agency begins five days after the 2013 season ends.
Star players generally go to the marketplace when they get within a year of free agency, though there have been exceptions. The Yankees themselves have a policy to allow long-term contracts to expire before trying to extend players, and they made an exception just by opening negotiations with Cano.
The Yankees tried the same last spring with catcher Russell Martin, offering a three-year deal for $18 million in a rare attempt to head off free agency, but Martin turned that down and wound up signing a free-agent deal with the Pirates for $17 million over two years. Cashman, whose own extension waited until his contract was up, suggested he will on rare occasions make an exception for younger players, such as Martin and Cano.
“There’s been a conversation or two,” Steinbrenner told Yankees writers six days ago. “We’ll get into that, and we’ll talk about it at a later date. He’s been a great Yankee, and we hope he’s here his entire career.”
Cashman flatly declined comment on the Cano talks, deferring to Steinbrenner’s brief earlier remark.
The Yankees are wasting their time talking with Cano now. Unless they offer him something like $240 million, he’s not going to sign before hitting the free agent market – not as long as Boras is his agent. (The only exception here would be if Cano knows he’s about to get busted for something that would hurt him in the open market after the disclosure.) As far as Hughes, the Yankees are smart to wait and see what he does this season. He could go out and win the A.L. Cy Young Award this season. Then again, he could just as easily could allow 48 homers this year and have an ERA above six. No one knows, for sure, who he is and what to expect. And, only a fool would lock him up without seeing what he does in 2013.