Cashman's Big Gamble: Hughes and Joba

The trade deadline has passed and Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain remain Yankees. By not moving them before the deadline, GM Brian Cashman took a calculated risk. If they leave as free agents this off-season, he will get two high draft picks to replenish the farm system. If not, he may be stuck with two pitchers he doesn’t want at salaries that he can’t afford.

Cashman’s plan to get extra draft picks is sound. It would enable the Yankees to, as Branch Rickey said, produce quality from quantity. Last year, his plan worked well. In addition to their traditional first-round pick (No. 26), the Yankees got the No. 32 pick when Nick Swisher left for Cleveland and the No. 33 pick when Rafael Soriano left for Washington. Cashman used these picks to select Aaron Judge, an outfielder from Fresno State, and Ian Clarkin, a high-school pitcher from California.

Whether Cashman’s plan will work again may depend on how well Hughes and Chamberlain pitch the rest of the year. This gives Yankee fans an added reason to hope they do well. If they don’t, Cashman’s plan could backfire. He may wind up with two pitchers he doesn’t want at salaries higher than what any other team would pay.

To obtain a compensatory draft pick, Cashman must make qualifying offers to Hughes and Chamberlain. A qualifying offer is the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players. The 2013 amount has not yet been set, but the 2012 figure was $13.3 million. If the player accepts the qualifying offer, he remains with his team for another season and must be paid the qualifying amount. If he rejects the offer, he becomes a free agent. If another team signs him, the Yankees will get a pick between the end of the first round and the beginning of the second round.

The question is whether any team will sign Hughes or Chamberlain to more than the qualifying offer.

Hughes’ numbers this year are not impressive. He is 4-10 with a 4.87 ERA and a 1.387 WHIP. However, he is young (27), has good stuff and has had major-league success. His problems have been inconsistency and the home-run ball. Playing his home games in Yankee Stadium hasn’t helped. This year, he is 1-7 at home with a 6.02 ERA. His away numbers are 3-3 with a 3.67 ERA.

Some talent evaluators believe Hughes’s talent would ripen in the NL West with its weaker lineups and bigger ballparks. However, his recent performance against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park is not encouraging (5 ER in 2 2/3 innings).

Joba is struggling with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.624 WHIP. He is used as a mop-up man. However, he is young (27) and still throws in the high 90s. When a pitcher throws that hard, there is always a Rick Peterson who thinks he can fix him in 15 minutes.

The risk for Cashman is that Hughes and Chamberlain might accept the Yankees’ qualifying offers. If they do, the Yankees will have them for another year at a salary of more than $13 million each. That will hardly help Cashman get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.

There are reasons why they would accept the qualifying offers. They may not expect to get offers of more than the qualifying offer. The qualifying offers would give each a large raise over his current salary (Hughes, $7.15 million; Joba, $1.88 million). Each is young and may hope to have a better year next year. They may need a good year to get a contract better than the qualifying offer.

Unless Cashman would like to have them back, he must think long and hard before making qualifying offers. If he chooses not to and they leave, the Yankees will get nothing in return. If he could have moved them before the trade deadline for even marginal talent, he may regret not doing so.

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