In one of the odder aspects of the 2014 baseball season, Minnesota Twins pitcher Phil Hughes is losing out on a $500,000 incentive payment because he was removed from his final start of the regular season earlier than he would have been because of a rain delay.
The details of Hughes’ contract were offbeat enough since he kept gaining rewards for more innings pitched – good ones or bad ones – anyway.
The big payoff was his if Hughes reached 210 innings pitched this season. The Twins were playing against the Arizona Diamondbacks last Wednesday with Hughes on the mound for his final regularly scheduled start. He was going along just fine in the eighth inning when the game was interrupted by a rain delay that lasted 66 minutes.
It is quite common for managers to remove pitchers who are on the mound when rain strikes and Minnesota boss Ron Gardenhire did just that. The assumption is that a pitcher’s arm will stiffen up and he will risk injury if he resumes throwing hard.
So out came Hughes. At that point he was at 209 2/3 innings for the year. Hughes, 28, was at one time was touted as the future ace of the New York Yankees. But he fizzled at the end of his seven-year stay in the Big Apple in 2013 with a 4-14 record, and a 5.19 earned run average. So in 2014 he found himself in the Twin Cities. The hard-throwing right-hander went 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA for Minnesota.
Even more remarkable than that positive turn-around was Hughes’ magnificent control. He struck out 186 batters and walked just 16 in those 209 2/3 innings, a pitching efficiency level so astonishing that it represents a Major League mark.
The Twins are grateful for the work Hughes produced, but not so grateful that they were about to just give him the $500,000 they have no legal obligation to fork over. Indeed, as Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan noted, under the basic player agreement between players and management, the team can’t violate the Hughes deal by giving him more money than he is owed any more than it can by giving him less than was agreed-upon.
To his credit, immediately after the expensive rain delay made his situation clear, Hughes said he would not accept the money even if it was offered because technically he did not earn it. He also said he would not ask Gardenhire to use him in relief over the last few days of the season to get that one more out. If the team was in the playoff hunt and needed him that would be different, he said, but since the Twins are mired deep in the standings that is not a relevant factor.
Don't feel sorry for him
Somewhat overshadowed was that already Hughes had earned a total of $250,000 in bonuses merely for passing 180 and 195 innings.
While all of this about Hughes’ refusal to grab for the $500,000 is a nice talking point a few other things should be noted. The first is that no one should feel sorry for Hughes because he is hardly underpaid. He made $8 million this season.
The second is that even having such a clause in the contract of someone expected to be the horse of the staff seems a tad ridiculous. A half-mil for 210 innings? A team’s No. 1 starter should be penciled in for more work than that, or at the least have it figured as just being part of the job.