The Twins are expected to announce the signing of free-agent righthander Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million deal this week, according to a person with knowledge of negotiations.
Hughes could be in the Twin Cities as early as this weekend for a physical, the person said. A physical usually is the final step before a deal is formally announced.
This came three days after it was learned that the club agreed to a four-year, $49 million contract for righthander Ricky Nolasco, pending a physical. That deal would be the Twins’ largest contract ever for an outside free agent; Hughes’ deal would be No. 2. Combined, they show that the club has gotten serious about significantly upgrading one of the worst starting rotations in baseball over the past few seasons.
The Twins might still try to re-sign righthander Mike Pelfrey as well. Pelfrey, 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, wants to return to the Twins, who recently offered a two-year deal for around $10 million. It’s not known if that deal remains on the table.
And, if that wasn’t enough, the Twins are making progress in their attempts to bring back free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, the person with knowledge of the Hughes negotiations said. The Twins want to bring in players with winning backgrounds, and Pierzynski, who won a World Series in 2005 with the White Sox and played in 14 postseason games with the Twins, brings that as well as an edge in the clubhouse that the club believes is missing.
In all, this could shape up to be a busy week for the Twins as they try to address myriad issues on a team that has lost 291 games since 2011.
Hughes is only 27, but after going 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA in 2012 with the Yankees, he was 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 2013, giving up 170 hits in 145⅔ innings. But he was 1-10 with a 6.32 ERA at home, so some believe that Hughes could rediscover himself if he is out of Yankee Stadium.
The Twins were interested in Hughes after the 2007 season, when they were seeking suitors for two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. Hughes at the time was considered the top prospect in the Yankees farm system, a former first-round draft pick who was 5-3 in 13 starts as a 21-year-old.
The Yankees at the time reportedly had Hughes on the table during the December winter meetings, then backed off as the meetings ended. The Twins ended up sending Santana to the Mets for a package of four players, including Carlos Gomez, a 2013 All-Star for Milwaukee.
Hughes, meanwhile, has had an up-and-down career. He was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in what appeared to be a breakthrough season in 2010. But he never evolved into the ace pitcher the Yankees — and the Twins for that matter — envisioned during those 2007 trade talks.
Injuries certainly have been a contributing factor. Hughes missed almost half of the 2011 season, making only 17 starts, because of shoulder inflammation, and he has also been bothered by back problems.
The Twins are hopeful the move to pitcher-friendly Target Field will benefit Hughes. He relies primarily on a fastball and curveball, and has been hurt by home runs, yielding 59 in 337 innings over the past two seasons.
With Nolasco and Hughes in the fold, the Twins rotation definitely looks better than last season. Kevin Correia, 9-13 with a 4.18 ERA last season, settles into more of a midrotation stabilizer. Lefthander Scott Diamond and righthander Samuel Deduno — the latter recovering from shoulder surgery — could round out the back end.
Also in the mix is Vance Worley, the 2012 Opening Day starter who was sent to the minors after 1-5 start, then broke down with shoulder problems late in the season. But the real key to the Twins’ long-term rotation renovation will be the development of righthander Kyle Gibson, who took his lumps as a rookie in 2013, and the arrival of top starting prospect Alex Meyer, a hard thrower who most resembles a staff ace.