The Red Sox have already signed two pitchers who spent at least part of the 2021 season with the Rays this off-season, so what’s stopping them from going after a third?
Following the additions of Michael Wacha and Rich Hill, the Sox should next turn their attention to Collin McHugh — someone they already have a history with — once the Major League Baseball lockout ends.
Last March, Boston signed McHugh to a one-year deal for the 2020 season a few weeks into spring training. But the veteran right-hander never suited up for the Red Sox.
At the time of his signing, McHugh was approximately three months removed from undergoing a Tenex procedure to treat a flexor strain in his elbow. The COVID-19 pandemic and the league-wide shutdown that followed only prolonged his recovery, and the righty ultimately opted out of the 2020 season in July.
After sitting out all of 2020, McHugh inked another one-year pact with the division rival Rays this past February and enjoyed a nice bounce back in what was his ninth big-league season.
Across 37 appearances (seven starts) for Tampa Bay, the 34-year-old posted a miniscule 1.55 ERA and 2.12 FIP to go along with 74 strikeouts to 12 walks over 64 innings of work in 2021.
Not only was McHugh effective when it came to keeping runs off the board, he was able to do so while limiting hard contact against him. Among the 269 pitchers who accrued at least 60 innings on the mound this year, McHugh ranked fifth in barrel rate (2.5%), eighth in hard-hit rate (28.9%), and sixth in expected ERA (2.26), per FanGraphs.
For as productive as McHugh may have been with the Rays, he did miss some time on account of being placed on the injured list on three separate occasions. From April 18 through May 4, he was sidelined because of a low back strain. From July 25 through August 7, he was sidelined because of arm fatigue.
Despite those injury-related concerns, there was not much McHugh could do wrong in 2021. He did not allow a single run while serving as Tampa Bay’s opener and proved to be effective against left-handed and right-handed hitters alike.
Per Baseball Savant, the 6-foot-2, 191 pound hurler operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a nasty slider, a cutter, a four-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup. Opposing hitters batted just .177 against McHugh’s slider — a pitch he threw nearly 53% of the time — this year.
McHugh, who does not turn 35 until next June, is projected by FanGraphs readers to net himself a one-year, $5 million deal in free agency this winter. The Illinois native can pitch in a variety of roles and can provide multiple innings of relief when needed.
When speaking with reporters (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo) earlier this month, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom indicated that the club would be aggressive in pursuing bullpen help once MLB’s transaction freeze is lifted.
“We still would like to add more pitching,” said Bloom. “We’ve got some guys who can fill multiple roles. But as far as short relievers, that is something we have yet to address in meaningful fashion. And we’re going to continue to look at doing that.”
Considering that McHugh offers flexibility, would not be too expensive to sign, and is already familiar with the organization, he seems like a free agent the Red Sox should target as soon as they get the opportunity to.
(Picture of Collin McHugh: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)