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Minnesota Twins set to extend Phil Hughes

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Few expected that Phil Hughes could produce on the mound the way he did in 2014 and even fewer thought that his breakout season would have come as a member of the Minnesota Twins. The club took a gamble last offseason, signing the right-hander to a three-year, $24 million contract based largely on hope and potential. The risky move paid off for Minnesota, with Hughes proving to be the best arm in the team’s rotation, and it appears as though the team wants to reward him for those efforts.

Minnesota and Hughes have agreed to a three-year contract extension, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

The new deal between the sides negates the final two remaining years from Hughes’ initial deal, essentially amounting to a new five-year, $58 million contract. Hughes had been scheduled to earn $8 million in each of the next two seasons, but will instead take home $9.2 million each year. He’ll then earn $13.2 million in each of the subsequent three seasons.

He’ll reach free agency again following his age 32 season – the same position that James Shields finds himself in now, as Feinsand notes.

A 1st Round pick by the New York Yankees in 2004, Hughes rose through the Yankees’ minor league system carrying high promise and even larger expectations. He was one of a trio of starting pitching prospects (alongside Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy) expected to carry the Yankees into their next dynasty, but none were able to develop as hoped and all have since moved on to other teams where they’ve seen varying degrees of success.

Hughes, now 28, made his debut with New York during the 2007 season and went a combined 5-7 with a 5.15 ERA in 106.2 IP over his first two seasons. The next year the Yankees put him in the bullpen, where he quickly became a vital piece of the team’s core at the end of games and helped setup for Mariano Rivera en route to the team’s World Series championship.

That next year he was moved back to the starting rotation, where he’d both flourish and flounder over the next four seasons. In 2010 he went 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA and 1.248 WHIP while earning a trip to the All Star Game. In 2013 he was just 4-14, with a 5.19 ERA in just 145.2 IP. New York witnessed both ends of the Hughes spectrum and ultimately when free agency came around following the 2013 season they didn’t make much of an effort to retain him.

Enter the Twins, who were able to benefit from Hughes’ historic 2014 season. Moving to the spacious confines of Target Field seemed to benefit the fly-ball pitcher, his home run rate dropped to a career-best 0.7 HR/9 while he went on to win 16 games, post a 3.52 ERA, and a MLB record setting 11.63 K/BB rate. Hughes’ 0.7 BB/9 (he walked just 16 batters all season) was nearly two full walks per nine innings better than his previous career low.

Hughes threw 209.2 IP this past season, just one out shy of a $500,000 bonus built into his contract. A rain delay late in September was largely to blame, so the team gave him an opportunity to come out of the bullpen during the season’s final weekend in order to reach that incentive goal but Hughes declined, stating that it “wouldn’t be right” to do just for the money. The way in which the two sides handled that situation appears to have helped boost an already strong relationship, helping to pave the way for this extension to be completed.

Minnesota has not made many significant moves this offseason, but they have made an effort to improve their starting rotation. Hughes proved he can be the ace of this staff with his performance this past season. The team has added Ervin Santana via free agency to follow him and there is depth to go along with Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, and Tommy Milone as they look to round out the rotation. It was a gamble to sign Hughes to a multi-year guarantee in the first place and the Twins may be taking another risk that he’ll continue such dominance, but in the end they may still end up with an ace-caliber pitcher for below market rate if he’s able to continue producing as he did in 2014.

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