The friendship between Glen Perkins and Phil Hughes seemed a charming story, until it wasn’t. Now their fragility is a pivotal problem for a besieged franchise.
On Dec. 5, 2013, Hughes signed a three-year contract with the Twins. On March 14, 2014, Perkins signed a four-year contract extension worth more than $22 million.
Perkins helped recruit Hughes to the Twins. Hughes performed admirably in 2014, and the Twins redid his deal to guarantee him about $58 million over five years.
The Minnesota native who became an All-Star closer and the former Yankee who fell in love with Minnesota summers could have looked for bigger paychecks elsewhere but spoke of winning together at Target Field.
Both are approachable and intelligent. Both are excellent interviews. This could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, not just between them, but between the duo and this fan base.
Watch: Perkins talks about his shoulder soreness
Their relationship sounded endearing until both showed up looking out of shape last spring, then were unavailable during crucial stretches of the season because of neck and back ailments.
You didn’t have to work hard to hear complaints about both of them in the Twins clubhouse and throughout the organization. There were times a player would talk about teammates willingly playing hurt while glaring across the clubhouse at Perkins.
This season, Perkins didn’t make it through two weeks of the season before visiting the disabled list because of a sore shoulder. Last week, with his team desperate for victories and innings, Hughes left with a lead in Detroit after 6 ⅓ innings and 75 pitches, then watched the bullpen implode.
Criticizing injured players is risky. We could find out in the near future that either Perkins or Hughes are damaged more than we or even they realized.
The facts, though, have created bad optics. Both signed long-term deals for truckloads of guaranteed dollars. Both were out of shape last spring. Both have suffered injuries and career downturns after signing their long-term deals, without requiring surgery.
Members of the Twins organization have told me that there were key figures with the team who wanted to trade Perkins this winter, and that there is one key figure who questions whether Perkins will pitch again this season. The latter is probably more indicative of the pessimism Perkins has inspired in the organization than a reflection of reality.
Sunday morning, manager Paul Molitor said Perkins, who had been expected to throw off a mound Monday, has had his rehabilitation schedule pushed back. Perkins then spoke at his locker and did not sound like a franchise leader eager to push himself to return to the active roster, or to help his team. What was supposed to be a short DL stint to build up strength in his shoulder now appears to be a rehabilitation process that will last months.
This can’t be repeated enough: Only the player knows how much he hurts. Molitor himself was frequently injured as a young player before becoming remarkably durable and productive late in his career. He wasn’t a slacker when he was young, but he did learn to build strength and flexibility as he grew older.
Perkins and Hughes looked to be in better physical condition this spring than last. Otherwise they are the kings of bad optics. Hughes didn’t mind coming out of a game after 75 pitches last week, although Sunday he threw 96. Perkins doesn’t project urgency with his words or actions.
Watch: Hughes talks about Sunday's loss
Since last July, Hughes is 2-12 with a 5.92 ERA. Since July 23, Perkins has produced three saves.
The Twins are 11-32. In a sport that is often about regression to the mean, it is almost as difficult to lose 32 by May 22 as it is to win 32. To reach 32 losses this quickly, your team has to be soft as S’mores.
Maybe Hughes and Perkins condition themselves well enough to pitch in the big leagues, and maybe their caution has helped them avoid more serious injury.
But you’d like to see a little more enthusiasm from your big-money players about taking the ball, and the mound.