Previewing the Yankee Offseason: Phil Hughes

Another lost season creates doubt about Hughes' future with Yankees.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Will the sixth time be the charm for Hughes?

    The Yankee season ended sooner than many people hoped, so it is now time to start looking forward to the 2012 season. This week, we'll look at five big decisions the team has to make as they prepare for the offseason.

    For a second we thought about discussing David Ortiz's comments about playing for the Yankees next season.

    And then we realized that our readers are far too intelligent to get drawn into Big Papi's naked attempt to secure a bigger contract from the Red Sox than he might get if the new regime realizes that they don't need to tie a ton of money up in the designated hitter position for a team that has other problems. It's a good strategy, but anyone who thinks the problem with the Yankees in the playoffs was a lack of players like Ortiz is someone who doesn't know all that much about baseball.

    So we are just going to stick with the plan we came up with when we decided on this undertaking earlier in the week. That means it is time to discuss Phil Hughes' future with the Yankees.

    It is considerably dimmer than it was at this point last season. Hughes won 18 games in 2010 and even with a poor second half he seemed like he was on his way to a nice, long stay in the rotation.

    Then he crashed and burned in April and that poor second half suddenly looked like the canary in the coal mine. Hughes had zero going for him on the mound in his first three starts and pitching in the big leagues without velocity and command is like running with the bulls when you cramp up easily.

    Hughes went on the DL and came back to the team for the second half. He had a few decent starts, but there was no sign of the pitcher who once dazzled scouts and his trip to the bullpen for the playoffs surprised no one. It was a lost season for Hughes, his second in the last four, and, at 25, his future is hazier than an August afternoon.

    The Yankees can't go into next season counting on him for a rotation spot. Joe Girardi said that the team still views him as a starting pitcher so they can hope that he shows them enough to earn a rotation spot, but expecting him to pitch well enough to hold down a rotation spot would be foolish.

    The problem is that it would be equally foolish to put him in a low-leverage rotation spot (the only one available), try to trade him or send him to the minors. His trade value couldn't be any lower and there's nothing for him to do in the minors that would show you anything worthwhile at this point in time.

    So letting him compete for a rotation spot is the only thing the Yankees can do while they also make sure there's a Bartolo Colon-type waiting in the wings to step in if Hughes once again proves he can't do the job. That feels like the likeliest outcome, but the Yankees right now need to let it happen to finally take the next step in their relationship with Hughes.

    Previously: CC Sabathia's Opt-Out, Nick Swisher's Option, Jesus Montero

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.