Phil Hughes will join Ricky Nolasco in a rebuilt Twins rotation, according to La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, agreeing to a three-year, $24 million contract on Saturday.
Hughes, the winter’s youngest free agent at age 27, is coming off a rough season in which he went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts and one relief appearance for the Yankees. Getting out of Yankee Stadium and it’s shallow right field porch should do him a whole lot of good, though it’s not like he’s been any sort of ace on the road, either.
The curious thing is that Hughes held out for the longer deal rather than going the Josh Johnson route and signing a one-year contract, with the chance of landing a much bigger payday next winter. Certainly, if he had bounced back and turned in a season more like his 2012, he could have been in a position to land the kind of four-year, $49 million deal that Nolasco just got or something bigger. Frankly, it suggests a lack of confidence that he’d rather have the much more modest three-year deal right now.
With Hughes and Nolasco in the fold, the Twins have clearly upgraded what was the league’s ugliest rotation last season. Kevin Correia will be back to occupy another spot, with Samuel Deduno a heavy favorite to join him. The team still has to decide whether to bring in another veteran or to let Kyle Gibson, Vance Worley, Andrew Albers and Scott Diamond compete for the fifth spot.
Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.
As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.
Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”
Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012. He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.
The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.