Another free-agency audition for Hughes

In 16 career innings in Oakland, Phil Hughes has a 1.69 ERA. The O.co Coliseum is a fly-ball pitchers' park, built perfectly for Hughes to demonstrate his free-agent value.

When Hughes starts Wednesday night, manager Joe Girardi will surely throw out his best defensive outfield with Brett Gardner in center, Ichiro Suzuki in right and Vernon Wells in left and hope they can chase everything down.

Hughes, who is 3-4 with a 4.80 ERA in 12 starts this season, is not a fit for Yankee Stadium. One Yankees official recently described him as "No. 4 starter," which might be his ceiling in the AL East.

The same official acknowledged that in a different park and maybe a different league, Hughes might bump up a few notches in a rotation.

So with Hal Steinbrenner's budget colliding with Hughes' free agency, it seems that Hughes will be worth more to somebody else than he is to the Yankees.

The Yankees could be left with nothing, unless they make him a qualifying offer of $13.3 million. If Hughes turns it down, the Yankees would receive a first-round pick after Hughes signed as a free agent with another team.

If Hughes finishes, say, 15-10 with a 4.20 ERA, the team might consider making the qualifying offer even though it is quite an increase from the $7.15 million he is making this season. Ultimately, the offer would be made for the same reason that the Yankees extended an offer to Nick Swisher this past winter.

The Yankees had no intention of bringing back Swisher, but they wanted the first-round pick they would receive if Swisher left. If the Yankees won't offer Hughes a qualifier, maybe they'll consider trading him now. Ivan Nova, Vidal Nuno or Michael Pineda might be just as good as Hughes, perhaps even better. Most likely, though, the Yankees will keep Hughes the entire season.

If so, the Yankees and Hughes are set for a game of chicken. It is not impossible that the Yankees could sign him long term, but that seems unlikely since he will be worth more somewhere else than he is in the Bronx. So the Yankees will have to decide whether to put out the qualifier, hoping Hughes doesn't accept, or they'll lose him for nothing.

On Wednesday night, Hughes can make all the teams with big ballparks, like the Padres and Mets, dream about what Hughes might be at the right park.