The lingering uncertainty over Phil Hughes' role on the Twins is finally over. There isn't one.
The veteran righthander, who hoped to capture a spot in the starting rotation during spring training, then tried to fill a vague, undefined bullpen role when that didn't work, was designated for assignment following Monday's game, a reluctant acknowledgement by the Twins that they can wait no longer to figure out how to use him.
"When we moved him to the pen, we were looking for opportunities to have him work his way back. And it became challenging," Twins manager Paul Molitor said after breaking the news, along with Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine, to the 31-year-old. "We played so many close games, I haven't had a big opportunity [to use him], and I apologized to him for that."
The Twins filled Hughes' roster spot by recalling outfielder Ryan LaMarre from Class AAA Rochester. LaMarre hit .324 with three RBI in two earlier stints with the Twins, and hit .371 at Rochester.
Cutting ties with Hughes, who received Cy Young Award votes for his strong first season with the Twins in 2014, is an uncharacteristically costly move for the team.
With a guaranteed salary of $13.2 million, Hughes earns more than any Twin except Joe Mauer ($23 million) and Ervin Santana ($13.5 million) — and he is guaranteed $13.2 million next year, too, under a five-year, $58 million contract extension he signed before the 2015 season. Molitor said Falvey and Levine discussed the move with Twins owner Jim Pohlad.
Hughes pitched 209⅓ innings in 2014, after signing as a free agent from the Yankees, and he posted a 3.52 ERA while famously declining an opportunity to pitch on the season's final day to record one out and collect a $500,000 incentive for reaching 210 innings.
Thanks in large part to injuries, however, Hughes has pitched only 280 innings in the four seasons since. He suffered a back injury, fractured a femur, and in 2016 underwent surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome — a condition in which the arteries in his pitching shoulder were compressed by his ribs and collarbone — then had another surgery a year later to address a recurrence of his symptoms.
When he finally returned this spring, his fastball velocity had declined to roughly 88-90 mph, and he lasted less than four innings in his only two starts.
"He's worked really hard. He's been through a lot, physically. He's had to endure a lot of rehabs," Molitor said. "I thanked him for the effort that he's given me, and the time he's taken the ball, and I hope something happens in a positive fashion for him."
The Twins have seven days to trade Hughes or place him on release waivers, allowing a team to claim him — unlikely, since it would mean assuming the roughly $22 million he is still owed — or making him a free agent.
"Baseball can be a harsh and humbling game," Hughes tweeted (@pjhughes45). "Respect to the Twins organization and fans for always treating me so incredibly well. Will miss you guys."
• Miguel Sano (strained hamstring) was the designated hitter for Class AAA Rochester in a 6-2 loss at Lehigh Valley on Monday, going 1-for-4. He will play third base Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Twins said they will decide if he is ready to return after that. And then? "We haven't made any decisions about [his] return," Molitor said of Sano, out since April 27 because of a strained hamstring. "We're going to take the information as it comes in the next couple of days."
That could mean Sano rejoins the Twins this weekend in Seattle.
"The news on the leg has been good," Molitor said. "He was going to get out before the game to do a little extra baserunning, because he hasn't been on base a ton yet."
• Ervin Santana was supposed to pitch in a game for the first time this year Monday, but rain in Fort Myers, Fla., canceled the extended spring training session. So the All-Star righthander will fly to Chattanooga, Tenn., on Tuesday and start Wednesday for the Class AA Lookouts.
• After staying home all weekend to allow his concussion-like symptoms to subside, Joe Mauer returned to Target Field on Monday for treatment on his sore neck and another couple of tests. Has his sensitivity to light, which returned late last week, and balance issues gone away? "He's doing a little better," Molitor said.