Last week, the struggling Phil Hughes was traded to the Padres in an unusual deal. The Padres acquired him for a Twins’ compensatory pick that happens to be the 74th pick in the upcoming draft, which also includes the $812,200 of bonus pool money attached to that pick. The Padres will be sending $7.6 million to Minnesota to offset the approximately $21 million still owed to Hughes through next year. Of the money the Padres will be paying, $7.25 million of that will be paid next year.
Hughes was recently designated for assignment. He has had a 6.30 RA9 since the beginning of 2016, and though he had never been much of a strikeout machine, he only struck out 15.6 percent of batters faced over that period. The Twins are currently falling well short of the high bar they set last year, but they are trying to compete. They understandably evaluated the sub-replacement level pitcher as a sunk cost, so they decided it was best to part ways and eat the $21 million owed to him.
It is a sad fall for the former first round pick. Hughes has just never been able to duplicate the career year he had in 2014 when he turned in a 3.78 RA9 over 209.2 innings. Striking out about 22 percent of batters faced is not very impressive, but it was his best result since 2009.
The most memorable aspect of Hughes’s 2014 season was his minuscule 1.9 BB% and all time best 11.63 K/BB! That walk rate easily led the league among qualified pitchers. His control had improved over the past couple of years, but walking less than two percent of hitters faced is just stunning. That was the lowest rate since Carlos Silva’s 1.2 BB% in 2005. And Hughes accomplished it while also striking out hitters at over twice the rate that Silva did!
That career year led the Twins to restructure Hughes’s contract. They took the two years and $16 million left on his contract and tacked on three more years while adding $42 million in guaranteed money.
The new deal was a great show of good faith at the end of the 2014 season when Hughes was going to fall one out shy of receiving a $500,000 bonus. It was certainly a feel good story.
Unfortunately, the fact of the matter was extending an oft injured pitcher through his age-33 season turned out as badly as one might expect. FanGraphs’ Jay Jaffe goes into more detail about Hughes’s injury history here where he focuses on Hughes’s experience with thoracic outlet syndrome.
Hughes was already declining before his surgery for TOS about halfway through the 2016 season. As mentioned before, he had a 6.49 RA9 for the Twin since coming back in 2017 in a mixture of starting and relief. He had a 6.28 DRA last year and had a 7.06 DRA this year before getting traded. His once excellent walk rates rose up to higher than league average this season. You have to feel bad for Hughes, but a team trying to compete simply cannot roster such a player.
I am sure many believed that Hughes had little chance of being traded, even if the Twins offered to eat the entirety of his contract. He is about to turn 33 years old, and he might not be a major league quality pitcher anymore.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I did not see a trade of this type coming. As FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards recently wrote, these kinds of trades do not happen very often, and when they do, they seldom involve big name major leaguers. The trade with the biggest names involved is probably the Céspedes/Lester trade in 2015.
As Edwards mentioned in his article, this trade amounted to the Padres essentially buying a draft pick from the Twins. One could argue that $7.6 million is too much to pay for the 74th pick, but remember that they also get the bonus pool money associated with it. We will have to wait for the draft to see how the Twins will utilize their new asset.
For the Padres, it’s just money. According to Spotrac, their team salary ranks 22nd in baseball at just under $100 million. There is a lot more value in the draft than in free agency anyway, and that is where a rebuilding team needs to focus, despite the Padres’ perplexing major free agent signing this past offseason.
As for the Twins, a team trying to compete that is selling the 74th pick for $7.6 million makes a lot of sense too. Per FanGraphs, their playoff odds sit at only 8.8 percent, which sounds reasonable for a team below .500 in the ultra-competitive American League. The team is going to see a lot of money come off the books this offseason, including Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier. They can also decline Ervin Santana’s option for next year. He has yet to pitch this year and is currently on the 60-day disabled list.
Every little bit helps if the Twins want to make a run at the upcoming offseason’s historic free agent class. The rebuilding Padres are wise to do what they can to improve their draft class. It is a rare type of trade, but it works for both teams, even though the Twins are not going to enjoy eating that salary.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.