MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Phil Hughes has long been on Minnesota’s radar.
Thanks to a rough season by the right-hander in New York, the Twins finally added him to their roster.
“He probably wouldn’t be sitting here if he had an average year. So maybe this is a good omen for us,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said, adding: “We’ve got hopes that with a change of scenery that we’re going to get him going in the right direction.”
Hughes went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA for the Yankees last season, and the Twins finalized a $24 million, three-year contract with him after he passed his physical Thursday. This was their second significant step toward restoring a ragged rotation, after signing right-hander Ricky Nolasco Tuesday to a $49 million, four-year deal. Twins starters had the worst collective ERA in the majors last season.
“I think it’s going to be great. Like Terry said, I struggled last year,” Hughes said at an introductory news conference at Target Field. “Coming to a new team, a new place and a ballpark that’s obviously a little bit more conducive to pitching is going to help a lot.”
Minnesota picked Trevor Plouffe at No. 20 and Glen Perkins at No. 22 in the 2004 draft, and Hughes went from Santa Ana, Calif., to the Yankees at No. 23. After breezing through their minor league system, he made his debut in 2007. When the Twins were shopping Johan Santana in trades before the 2008 season, Hughes was high on their wish list. But the Twins consummated a deal with the Mets, not the Yankees. Hughes had a stellar season as a setup man for the World Series champions in 2009, won 18 games in 2010 and 16 games in a career-high 191-plus innings in 2012.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” Hughes said. “It wasn’t right in 2004 and it wasn’t right in 2008, but I think it’s going to be right in 2014.”
The Twins are banking on a move out of hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium to spacious Target Field will help Hughes rediscover the success he had earlier in his career. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Hughes was an All-Star in 2010.
“He’s got the velocity. He’s got a curveball. He’s got a slider. He’s got a change. He’s big. He’s strong,” Ryan said, adding: “He’s only 27. Pitching in New York and in Yankee Stadium is nothing like it would be here at Target Field. … We need pitching. We’re willing to take a risk.”
He will make $8 million in each of the next three seasons. The contract includes $1 million in annual performance bonuses: $250,000 each for reaching 180 and 195 innings and $500,000 for reaching 210 innings.
Hughes still had 121 strikeouts in 145 2-3 innings last season, despite his struggles. He could’ve taken a one-year offer, got back on track and cashed in with a bigger contract next winter. But he liked the commitment showed by the Twins, who wanted some stability. Ryan said Hughes was the youngest free agent pitcher on the market this year.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but obviously when you sign two guys for the dollars that we have here, you have high hopes that we’re improving this rotation,” Ryan said.
Behind Nolasco and Hughes is returning veteran Kevin Correia. The other spots are open, with Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson and Vance Worley among the leading candidates at this point. Ryan said the team is still considering other available free agents. To make room on the 40-man roster for Hughes, the Twins designed right-hander Liam Hendriks for assignment.
Being a part of a rebuilding project was another attraction for Hughes, as was escaping the pressurized environment in New York.
“That the Twins wanted me for the long term, or somewhat long term, was enticing for sure and something I felt a lot of value with, going to a team that really wants you around,” Hughes said.
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