By Ernie Palladino
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As the Jets’ star sank not-so-slowly into the sky on Sunday, another kind of New York failure prepared to relocate westward.
Of the two, former Yankee Phil Hughes may be in the best shape, having signed for three years, $24 million with the Twins. For the 27-year-old right-hander and his ex-team, it proved a win-win. They both made good decisions.
The fact that Hughes wound up elsewhere came as no surprise. The Yanks didn’t offer him the $14.1 million qualifying offer, so they’re not even entitled to a draft pick for his departure. That’s how little they wanted the former first-round draft choice around. It was the team’s way of saying “good riddance” to an otherwise nice, hard-working kid who never came close to fulfilling his potential in pinstripes.
The Twins must see a lot of good in him, though. Because of the inflationary prices of a weak free-agent market, Hughes signed a huge deal with Minnesota, his contract dwarfed only by the four-year, $49 million deal Ricky Nolasco signed last week. They are obviously hoping that Hughes can recapture the form that made him an 18-game winner in 2010 before injuries and whatever went on between his ears turned him into an iffy proposition at best, even as he won 16 games in 2012.
Through it all, there was always the worry of the wrong ball turning into the long ball with the right-hander. It didn’t help that Yankee Stadium has proved to be a veritable launching pad. Moving to Minnesota, its cooler climes and its pitcher-friendly, open-air park could help Hughes. And, let’s face it, he wouldn’t be the first player to ever blow it in New York and flourish elsewhere.
The Twins think he’s good enough to put that 4-14, 5.19 mark of 2013 behind him. But when a guy goes 1-10, 6.32 in his own park and has given up 59 homers the last two years, it can leave indelible scars.
So it’s a tossup as to whether Hughes will resurrect a rather wrecked career in Minnesota.
On the Yanks’ end, it matters little what Hughes does. The rotation is no better or worse today than it was at the end of the season. It still needs a starter. And they might know exactly where they’re going to get that starter, too.
Masahiro Tanaka, a 25-year-old wunderkind who went 24-0 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, might be just the guy if they can pry him away from the Japanese League. It will cost them somewhere upwards of $50 million, but it might be worth it. Unlike Hughes, whose stuff caused him to be rushed through the minors, Tanaka has plenty of experience. And he clocks a consistent 93 MPH on the gun, with occasional visits to 97.
He comes with a six-pitch repertoire, although the fastball and splitter highlight it.
They’ll have to outbid the Dodgers once all the international red tape is worked out. But knowing the Yanks, they’ll be right in the thick of the negotiations, looming issues with the luxury tax or not. That’s all providing they don’t blow a major part of their budget on Oakland closer Grant Balfour, since their faith that David Robertson can handle the step into Mariano Rivera’s shoes falls somewhere short of rock-solid.
There are no guarantees the Yanks made the right move in letting Hughes go free. He could well reconstruct himself as a quality pitcher in Minnesota. Tanaka, or some homebred, corn-fed veteran could come here and flop.
The Yanks let Hughes go because they were convinced he would never be a reliable arm for them.
Both sides came out all right.
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