The Rays are on the verge of adding a pair of veteran arms to their pitching staff.
The defending American League champions are in agreement on separate deals with left-hander
If finalized, Hill’s one-year deal will be worth $2.5 million, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, who first reported that the Rays were nearing an agreement with the lefty. McHugh’s deal will be for $1.8 million, as first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
In Hill and McHugh, the Rays are set to add two experienced pitchers who seem like perfect fits for what could be another one of their creative pitching plans.
The Rays were in pursuit of starting pitchers this offseason, which led them to Michael Wacha, Chris Archer and now both Hill and McHugh, after they had parted ways with Charlie Morton and Blake Snell. As teams try to safely manage the increase in pitchers’ workloads from a 60-game schedule to a 162-game season, it seems Tampa Bay is prepared to attack the challenge by loading up on “bulk-inning” options.
The Rays’ Opening Day-ready starting/bulk-inning choices could include Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Archer, Wacha, Hill, McHugh and Trevor Richards, along with younger arms like Josh Fleming, Shane McClanahan, Luis Patiño and perhaps Brent Honeywell Jr. Ideally, that depth — combined with their deep bullpen and other young starters, like Brendan McKay and Joe Ryan — will give them the necessary innings to navigate through the season without overtaxing any of their arms.
Hill, who will turn 41 next month, went 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA in 38 2/3 innings over eight starts for the Twins last season. From 2016-19, the lefty went 39-19 with a 3.00 ERA and 517 strikeouts in 437 1/3 innings over 83 outings.
Hill has spent time on the injured list over the past few years with blister, knee, forearm and shoulder issues, but his fastball-curveball combination has made him dominant when he’s taken the mound. The opportunity to make another postseason run with the reigning AL East champions likely appealed to Hill, who pitched in the postseason with the Dodgers each year from 2016-19.
“A lot of things that are going to go into the decision of where we’re going to sign this year,” Hill told WEEI.com in November. “I think one of them, and one of the big ones, is winning.”
McHugh, 33, spent the first part of his big league career as a starter for the Mets, Rockies and Astros. He moved to the bullpen for Houston in 2018, and thrived in a full-time relief role, posting a 1.99 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 94 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings over 58 outings. He then enjoyed another strong stint in the bullpen in ’19 (2.67 ERA, .640 opponents’ OPS) after a rocky return to the Astros’ rotation early that year.
Last March, the Red Sox signed McHugh to an incentive-laden one-year deal to carve out a spot on their staff as a starter, reliever or opener. But in July, he elected not to play in the shortened season due to lingering issues with his throwing arm. McHugh missed the last month of the 2019 season due to a strained right flexor tendon.
“His arm is not coming around like he had hoped,” then-Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said last year. “And he knew that probably he was going to have to spend some time on the IL. And if he was going to do that, with what’s going on, and with the pandemic, he would feel better if he was at home with his family during that time. That’s the decision that he has made.”
McHugh averaged 181 innings per season as a starter from 2014-16, then 70 per year from 2017-19. In eight big league seasons, he is 58-43 with a 3.95 ERA and 771 strikeouts in 800 2/3 innings over 210 appearances, including 119 starts. He pitched six innings in the 2017 postseason, when the Astros won the World Series, and tossed four scoreless frames in the ’18 postseason — all out of the bullpen.
The 6-foot-2 righty has seen his arsenal evolve over time, capitalizing on his unique ability to spin the baseball. In 2018, the average spin rate on McHugh’s slider (2,835 rpm) was comparable to that of Chaz Roe (2,843), and the average spin rate on his curveball (2,799 rpm) was nearly identical to that of Tyler Glasnow (2,802).
Once a fastball-curveball pitcher, McHugh threw his slider 43.4 percent of the time in 2019, and he dominated hitters with that pitch. While his four-seam fastball averaged only 90.8 mph, opponents batted .175 with a .343 slugging percentage and a 39.6-percent whiff rate against his slider.