When I heard about the Hunter deal late Tuesday night, it wasn’t the money (5 years, $90 million) that surprised me (although the amount is astronomical).
It was the team that signed him.
The Angels? Not the Rangers. Not the White Sox. Not the Dodgers.
The team with an already solid defensive (though slightly overrated in that regard) center fielder in Gary Matthews Jr., he of the $50 million contract just a year ago?
Yep, those guys.
Clearly this was a move that took most of the baseball world by surprise. We heard about Hunter dining with Rangers owner Tom Hicks, about his dining also with White Sox GM Kenny Williams, but there was zero indication (at least to this writer) that the Angels were looking to upgrade in the outfield. Willits, Anderson, Rivera, Matthews, and of course, Guerrero make for an enviable set of outfielders (and a DH) already.
Why then Torii Hunter? Simple: Arte Moreno had the money, it improves the lineup, and this isn’t the last move of the offseason for Tony Reagins.
First let’s take a look at what Hunter brings to the table:
Career batting line: .271/.324/.469 – not so good
Great clubhouse guy. Check..Scioscia will love this guy.
Defense? Above average, but according to every defensive metric, those skills are already in decline. Still, he’s an upgrade over Matthews.
2007: .287/.334/.505 – career highs in RBI (107), 2nd highest SLG, and 18 SB
It was a year that clearly was good enough to get him $90 million, but an .839 OPS is solid, but is it worth paying $90 million to a 32 year-old outfielder with declining defensive skills? Of course not. Hunter was probably headed back to the Twins in 2008 before catching fire after the All-Star break (.301/.342/.558). By the end of the season, it was pretty clear the Twins weren’t going to be able to re-sign him, as not only do they have Johan Santana to extend, but Justin Morneau is going to get his money soon as well. They made a half-hearted three-year offer to Torii, but in reality, there was very little interest in bringing him back and considering Hunter’s age and contract demands, it was a wise move.
So now that we’ve established that the Twins made the right decision in letting him walk (don’t forget the two draft picks they receive as compensation), but was this a good move for the Angels?
Let’s assume that Reggie Willits is gone in some sort of trade this winter. With Hunter aboard, that still seems to leave Juan Rivera on the outside looking in. With all the problems Garrett Anderson has had staying healthy and Vlad Guerero’s balky back, Rivera is nice insurance to be sure. How many of us remember that in 2006, Rivera had a better year (.310/.362/.525) by far than Hunter did last year? Perhaps the Angels are still worried about his leg or they think 2006 was a fluke, but could this move have more ominous reasons?
I’ll throw it out there: HGH. Do the Angels know something more about the controversy surrounding Gary Matthews Jr. than they are letting on? Let’s not forget that in Matthews’ walk year, he had by far his best year (.866 OPS) before dropping off to a more Matthews-like .742 in 2007. Sure, Arlington helped him in 2006, but that year, Matthews also had an .827 OPS on the road, so it wasn’t all due to park factors. Could his production have been chemically-aided? Perhaps. We’ll probably never know, but to give a guy $50 million due in large part to his defensive prowess in center field only to move him to left (like the Dodgers may do with their own awful 2006 free agent signing Juan Pierre) is simply mind-numbing. There’s nothing to indicate that Matthews is facing an HGH or steroid-related suspension, but then again, we’ve yet to crack open the Mitchell Report.
It will be interesting to see what comes next for the less-than-passive Tony Reagins. At the very least, Angels fans are abuzz with the gunslinger mentality he’s brought to a relatively staid organization in very little time. Whether this was actually a great move or not remains to be seen, as it all depends on how things shake out this winter. If we’re seeing Matthews in the lineup at the expense of Juan Rivera, then that would be a shame.
So what’s next? Miguel Cabrera? Miguel Tejada? Joe Crede? There’s going to be more moves, perhaps one significant move. We’re already starting to get the sense that Florida is coming to their senses in realizing that the Dodgers aren’t going to give up three or four premium young players for Cabrera, but will Reagins part with Kendrick, Wood, and Adenhart? It’s possible. Adenhart could be viewed as expendable, Figgins would play 2B with Kendrick gone, and Mike Scioscia seems confident with Erick Aybar and/or Macier Izturis at shortstop (I have my doubts about that pair). Tejada would cost significantly less, perhaps “just” Adenhart, Aybar, and a guy like a Jeff Mathis. Let’s go with that deal and see how the Angels lineup would look on
1B Kotchman – the ideal #2 hitter
This seems to leave Brandon Wood out of the picture, but the Angels may choose to have him work on his contact skills in Triple-A until there’s an opening at the big league level. These things have a way of sorting themselves out and we’ll certainly be watching.
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