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Red Sox sign Collin McHugh to a one-year deal

Hector Velázquez has been designated for assignment.

Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Red Sox are in need of rotation depth right now. Even before accounting for injuries, trading away David Price meant that a guy like Ryan Weber was going to have to jump in as the team’s fifth starter all season as the roster stood then. When you add in the injury to Chris Sale and the uncertainty of his timeline, never mind the injury histories of guys like Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez, and there’s a desperate need for depth. The team addressed that on Thursday, signing former Astro Collin McHugh to a one-year deal. To make room on the 40-man roster, Hector Velázquez was designated for assignment.

According to Alex Speier, the deal has a base salary of $600,000 with innings-based incentives that can drive that salary up.

McHugh is an interesting name and arguably the top option that was left in free agency, but he is not without his risks. For one thing, like Sale it does not seem he will not be ready for Opening Day either. His season ended early last year with elbow troubles and he just started his throwing program at the end of last month. There doesn’t seem a clear indication of his timeline, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be ready for March 26.

Even beyond that, McHugh hasn’t really been a starter for a couple of years. He did begin last season in Houston’s rotation and made eight starts, but he was subsequently moved to the bullpen until his season ended in September. In 2018, he spent the entire season in the bullpen. The 2017 season was the last one he spent entirely as a starter, and that year ended with just 17 starts between the majors and minors.

The good news is he has performed in the recent past. Last year wasn’t great with a 4.70 ERA, a 4.46 FIP and a 4.94 DRA, but he did strike out just about ten per nine. It’s also worth noting that his troubles were early in the year as a starter when his ERA was 6.37, though that’s not comforting given what his role would likely be in Boston. In 2018 he was electric out of the bullpen, pitching to a 1.99 ERA, a 2.75 FIP and a 2.70 DRA. In 2017, his last season as only a starter, he pitched to a 3.55 ERA with a 3.80 FIP and a 4.58 DRA.

It seems pretty clear that McHugh is better as a reliever, but it also seems pretty clear that Boston just doesn’t have room for him in that role. They need starters, or at least followers to come in after an opener. That latter role may end up being the best for McHugh. However he ends up being used, the righty features a fastball in the low-90s, and in the last couple of years he’s leaned heavily on his slider. Assuming he goes back to starting in 2020, he’ll likely turn more to his curveball and cutter as well to mix things up.

As for Velázquez, I was actually a little surprised by this. The righty was obviously rough last year and even when he’s been good in the past it’s seemed like he was walking a tightrope. Still, I thought his track record with the organization might hold some wait, but a suppose a new head of the front office makes that less important. At the end of the day it’s picking nits between the guys at the bottom of the roster, and the Red Sox stuck with the guys they identified over the winter from other organizations rather than the guy they know from their own. It is, of course, still possible that he clears waivers and sticks with the organization as depth in Pawtucket.