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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Collin McHugh

A pitcher the Astros turned around? It’s worked out once for the Yankees already this winter.

Houston Astros v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Spring training kicks off in a few weeks. Most of the big moves have been made by teams around the league, and each club is now examining whether there’s one more thing they can do to shore up depth. For the Yankees, they’ve stepped away from their typical playbook this winter by not adding at least one reliever - they extended Aroldis Chapman, and watched Dellin Betances head to Queens.

The bullpen has been a source of strength for the Yankees for a long time now, and perhaps no team in baseball is as good at producing excellent relievers, or taking ok-to-good relievers on other teams and making them great. The Astros have a good track record with improving pitchers too, and one of their success stories is on the market right now.

Collin McHugh, a 32-year old swingman, is coming off a mostly lost 2019 that saw him struggle with elbow issues before being shut down in September. He posted healthy enough strikeout numbers, but the injuries really derailed his year, as he walked more, gave up more home runs and induced fewer ground balls than any season since his rookie campaign.

However, during his last healthy season, which was also the season he worked entirely out of the bullpen, he was a legitimate stud:

I’ll let you figure out the season where he made zero starts.

McHugh boasts two really great pitches, a fastball and one of the best curveballs in baseball:

His success as a reliever isn’t that complicated - two great pitches, plus a decent enough changeup, can turn you into a star when you’re only working one inning at a time. That thin repertoire does tend to ding him in the rotation, but he can still probably be trusted with the odd spot start.

The other nice thing about McHugh is the affordability. He’s not on the MLBTR Top 50 free agents, where the bottom of the rung are pitchers signing one-year deals in the single digits. Collin could be had for a one year plus an option-kinda deal, enough time to rebuild some value after the injury in 2019, but low-risk, and low-cost enough, that it’s hard for the Yankees to make a mistake.

The drawbacks are twofold; one is that obviously the age and season lost to injury loom large. Pitchers generally don’t get better once they turn 30, and elbow issues can linger. But there’s another cost, and it’s one of opportunity.

Luis Cessa is out of MiLB options, and the Yankees have shown that they’re committed to him. Jonathan Loaisiga is projected to be exactly as good as McHugh, and is already on the roster. The Yankees could shuffle the Scranton Shuttle around, but with the big pieces set in the bullpen - Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, Chad Green and the rest - plus virtually identical pieces in Cessa and Loaisiga already on the team, there may just not be a spot for McHugh even if he’d be a nice depth add.