The Yankees rotation consists of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda and either Hughes, A.J. Burnett or Freddy Garcia. Each of the last three have a case for and a case against them.
Burnett has that salary (which is a case for and against him; do you really want a $16.5 million long reliever?) and Garcia pitched better than the other two last season, but he's still 35 years old.
Hughes' injuries, dead arm and not living up to his potential have been well-documented, but he's the one who should have that fifth starter job.
Most New York Yankee fans would answer that question with a definite no.
Most baseball fans, managers, pitching coaches and GMs would probably answer in a similar way, if not in a more vulgar way.
A.J. Burnett hasn't exactly lived up to his five-year, $82.5 million contract with the New York Yankees. He posted an ERA of 5.26 in 2010 and 5.15 in 2011—not the numbers you want from a guy making $16.5 million this year and who was supposed to be your number two starter.
Burnett has always been known to be a wild pitcher with high numbers for hit batters and walks. However, he's also been able to counterbalance that with his strikeout numbers and the chance for him to be dominant.
These past couple of years, however, Burnett's been more wild than dominant.
If I were Joe Girardi, I'd rather gamble on Phil Hughes reaching his ceiling than Burnett trying to lower his ERA—even though that'd be a waste of a contract by not having Burnett start.
Freddy Garcia is a bit of mystery.
Many people thought he was done after posting a 5.90 ERA in 2007 then disappearing over the next couple of seasons. He only played a total of 12 games in 2008 and 2009 before returning to the White Sox in 2010.
Even then, he didn't exactly have a good season with an ERA of 4.64 and a WHIP of 1.38. He was just average, which allowed the New York Yankees to sign him for cheap as security for their thin rotation in 2011.
Last season was a surprise for everyone. I'm pretty sure Garcia even surprised himself. However, there's no guarantee that he'll be able to repeat those numbers or even get anywhere close to it.
At age 35, Garcia could have a sudden drop-off in numbers.
I'd rather have Garcia serve the long-man role and provide pitching depth while Phil Hughes takes the fifth starter spot and tries to get his groove back.
I don't know about you, but I feel a little safer knowing that the guy throwing 100-plus pitches at the 80-90 mph range isn't over 35 years old.
Phil Hughes is still 25 years old and will turn 26 over the course of next season.
His youth means he's less susceptible to injuries, there's less chance of a decline in stats, better chance of a career year and he still has potential.
The New York Yankees have enough old, rather fragile bodies to worry about. They also shouldn't have to worry whether or not Freddy Garcia's arm will fall off midseason.
Also, at 25 years old, Hughes is just entering his prime, which means his best years are still ahead of him. I'd rather take a shot on the possibility of Hughes having a career year than hoping that A.J. Burnett isn't A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia can recreate a near-miracle.
I touched on this with the last slide, but I'll go into more detail here.
Everyone remembers Phil Hughes being the top-ranked pitching prospect in the New York Yankees' farm system. Hughes was even one of the top-rated prospects by Baseball America.
Injuries and having him switch between the bullpen and rotation have diminished that potential a bit, but it's still there. He still has a chance of reclaiming that lost potential and being the pitcher everyone thought he'd be.
Also, he has a higher ceiling than A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia. I just don't see them reinventing themselves over the winter and coming back with 95-plus mph fastballs and the world's greatest curveballs in their arsenal.
Hughes has a better shot of bouncing back and being better than A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia do. All he needs is some stability, which means no more bullpen duty for him.
Refer to this scouting report on Phil Hughes's curveball from the 2007 Baseball America when he was the fourth overall prospect found on River Avenue Blues.
As River Avenue Blues states later on in that article, the curveball Hughes has been working with wasn't that same pitch that allowed him to be dominant back in the minor leagues.
Hughes has been known to tinker with his repertoire, adding new pitches, tweaking old ones, sometimes even removing pitches completely. This is seen with the change to his curveball and him overusing his cutter.
The other curveball didn't fit well with him and didn't get people out as well as his old curveball. Now that Hughes is going back to his old curveball, chances are his strikeout numbers will go up and he'll be one step closer to being that pitcher he was projected to be.
About time, too.
Phil Hughes has been plagued with innings jumps, dead arms and various injuries. He also wasn't in the best of shape last year. Now Hughes doesn't have any of that to worry about. Also, he's been getting back into shape over the offseason.
For once in his major league career, he just might be 100 percent healthy and he should be given the chance to show what he can do.
At 35 years old, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia are more likely to be injured or face some sort of decline in their numbers as their bodies naturally regress.
Hughes, on the other hand, is 25 with his best years ahead of him.
Of course, there's no telling whether or not he'll get injured over the course of the season, but it's better to take a chance on a 25-year-old staying healthy than it is to do that on a 35-year-old.
The New York Yankees bullpen seems pretty set with Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano.
Rivera will continue to be Rivera and do Rivera-like things. Robertson will continue to thrive in that set-up role which is his to lose. Soriano will likely not suck again if his postseason numbers were of any indication.
Then there's also Joba Chamberlain, who is poised to return during next season. They'll likely stick him in the bullpen as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and also because he belongs in the bullpen.
Just between those four, the bullpen looks overcrowded. Sure, Phil Hughes was great in the bullpen, but that's not where he belongs. He's not needed there and would be better served as a starter so he can achieve his potential.
For once, the New York Yankees have pitching depth, which means that CC Sabathia doesn't have to worry about learning how to pitch with his right hand so he can throw every other day.
It also means that everyone else in the rotation can take a step back and not have to overperform or stretch their limits. Last season, it seemed like everyone was pressured to be that number two guy and take the load off Sabathia, which resulted in some forced performances.
Phil Hughes was one of those guys, but now he can be free of the pressure of having to back Sabathia with all the pitching depth. He can develop and get back to form at his own pace knowing that the Yankees don't need a shutout from him.
Pitchers do better when they're not stressed out or pressed to their physical limits. When they are, they're overthrowing pitches or missing their spots.
With the newly-added protection in the Yankee rotation, Hughes doesn't have to force his pitches and can let them come naturally.
Should Phil Hughes pitch well and the New York Yankees need to make a trade at the deadline to address a hole, allowing him to start would maximize his potential as a trade chip.
Solid starters are hard to come by, which is why the asking price for just about every starter on the trading block was ridiculously high.
I even felt like the Michael Pineda-for-Jesus Montero swap was a little high considering what Montero meant to Yankee fans and since Pineda wasn't a proven starter yet.
Heck, the Chicago White Sox even asked for Montero when the Yankees were looking at John Danks.
While I'd rather they not trade Hughes, he'd be easier to move than A.J. Burnett and his unlovable contract.
Phil Hughes's age is a factor I've talked about several times and with good reason. Hughes is still 25 years old and has a lot of pitching left in him.
A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia are heading towards the tail end of their careers and likely won't be New York Yankees for much longer.
Hughes' best years are still ahead of him and he has a chance to be an integral part of the Yankees rotation for years to come.
The Yankees can have a rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Hughes to carry them into the decade. Then there's also Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances ready to join them later on down the road.
If the Yankees give Hughes a shot to reach his potential, or at least get as close as he can to it and keep most of those guys together, they'll have a dominant rotation for the decade.
They might even be able to build a dynasty off of that rotation.
The Yankees have always had a win-now mentality, but they have to start looking toward the future at some point. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez won't be around forever (actually, A-Rod might just because of his contract).
The Yankees have a relatively young lineup that they can build around along with Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson.
The bottom line is, Hughes' youth and potential outweigh anything Burnett and Garcia can give. They should give Hughes a shot and let him be the fifth starter.