December 3, 2014

Twins sign Torii Hunter for $10.5 million

Torii Hunter Tigers

Torii Hunter took a "re-sign with the Tigers or retire" stance shortly after the season ended, but once it became clear that Detroit wasn't interested having him back a reunion with the Twins was all but inevitable. Hunter talked about wanting to finish his career with a contender and reportedly had interest from 2014 playoff teams and potential 2015 playoff teams, but in the end he chose a one-year, $10.5 million deal with a full no-trade clause to return to Minnesota.

Hunter was the Twins' first-round draft pick in 1993, debuted in 1997, and spent 1999-2007 as a power-hitting, quote-giving, Gold Glove-winning center fielder who frequently turned home runs into spectacular outs at the Metrodome. He left as a free agent following the 2007 season, signing a five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels that doubled the Twins' half-hearted attempt to retain him for three years and $45 million.

Hunter was 32 years old at the time and his defense had already shown major signs of decline, so the worry was that further slippage combined with good but not great offense would make him overpaid. Sure enough his defense slipped dramatically, to the point that he was not a center fielder by 2010, but his offense actually got better after leaving. With the Twins his OPS was 23 points above the league average, but after leaving the Twins it was 73 points above average.

He returns now at age 39 and as a completely different player. Hunter hit well this past season, batting .286/.319/.446 with 17 homers in 142 games for the Tigers, producing an adjusted OPS+ of 111 that would have ranked as his fourth-best mark for the Twins. But not only did he play a grand total of nine innings in center field during the past four seasons, Hunter's defense in right field has been horrendous according to nearly every prominent defensive metric.

Combined between 2013 and 2014 he graded out 22 runs below average in Ultimate Zone Rating, 25 runs below average in Plus/Minus, and 28 runs below average in Defensive Runs Saved. And in 2014 alone he rated as poorly as any outfielder to receive regular playing time. Surely the Twins will insist their scouts disagree with the numbers and perhaps they're right to an extent, but he's a bad defensive corner outfielder and that's one area that screamed out for them to improve.

Instead, with Hunter in right field, Oswaldo Arcia sliding over to left field to accommodate him, and a center fielder to be determined later the Twins have almost no chance of avoiding being a well below average outfield defensively and could easily rank among the very worst in baseball. For a low-strikeout pitching staff in a spacious ballpark that's a recipe for runs-allowing disaster, as we've unfortunately already seen for the past few seasons.

Make no mistake, the Twins are paying for nostalgia here. Even if Hunter exactly duplicates his 2014 performance--which is always unlikely at age 39--he'd be average offensively for a corner outfielder and well below average defensively. Any further decline on either side of the ball would make him a liability and as with most 39-year-olds there isn't a whole lot of upside to balance out the potential for a major dropoff.

The good news is that it's a straight up one-year deal, which makes it easier to cut bait on Hunter if necessary and doesn't lock the Twins into anything beyond 2015. And while $10.5 million is way too much money to spend it's not as if the Twins were going to spend money elsewhere anyway. In each of the past two seasons they've left massive amounts of payroll unspent and there's zero indication they planned to make a real effort to sign any front-line free agents this offseason.

In the best-case scenario Hunter hits .275 with 15 homers and merely bad defense, allowing the Twins to keep a corner spot warm for Eddie Rosario or Miguel Sano or another prospect. In the worst-case scenario Hunter struggles offensively, proves totally washed up defensively, and takes playing time from better, younger players while the haze of nostalgia keeps media fawning. For an organization stuck in the past a reunion with Hunter almost seemed too obvious, but here we are.


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  • mike lohre

    I think it’s a decent move, although almost everything you point out is correct of course. The Twins have not had a guy who will take other players, even Mauer, to task since. . .Hunter. He’ll do that with all these young guys. He’s a pro. He’ll still hit enough to matter but they are really paying for his leadership. In today’s market, not a bad roll of the dice.

    • by_jiminy

      Yeah, that’s really what they need, a loudmouth, arrogant, injury-prone bigot who will punch people for being injured less often than he is.

  • rcg

    Don’t you think the Twins are bringing him back for reasons other than his contributions on the field? In the first two hours I’ve already seen a huge spark of excitement from a surprising number of casual fans who would otherwise never mention the Twins, especially in the offseason. And it’s that group who makes up a massive majority of those buying tickets. Creating a little buzz amongst that demographic has to be extremely important to a team in as bad of a run as the Twins. The Timberwolves could do the Twins one better and bring back Kevin Garnett on a 1-year deal to draw some fans. From a PR standpoint, it is a no-brainer. Additionally, as someone who has played on a variety of sports teams at various levels, I can’t underemphasize the importance of having a leader in the clubhouse. The Twins apparently lacked any such individual. For these reasons, I approve of this move. Having said all that, they better have one hell of a center fielder.

  • by_jiminy

    Aaargh…this is so patronizing. It’s like they think baseball fans are little children that can be distracted from the losing by seeing a name they recognize. Why look, it’s Kubel! And Bartlett! And Hunter! They’re back! It must have all been a dream!

    I really had my hopes up that Texas would snap him up. Damn.

    This is so exactly what they don’t need. Another lumbering mediocre slugger. They’re not going to win. He’s not part of a rebuild. If he weren’t an ex-Twin, this would look totally, incomprehensibly, dumb. Well it still does, to me.

    I didn’t expect them to get someone expensive, or good enough to play for a playoff quality team, like Cruz or Cabrera. But why couldn’t they go after someone like Aoki? He has a career OBP of .353! Just what they need between all those home-run-or-bust strikeout-prone youngsters. And he can play defense! I would so, so rather see a player like that. And if you want leadership, why not someone who takes smart, disciplined at-bats, and focuses on getting on base? That’s what Arcia and Vargas need to see every day, not another cocky popinjay.

    I would also rather see a player like Rosario, who could really be part of the future.

    I used to love Torii and that smile when he was young, until he started “calling out” players on his own team and revealed himself to be a total jerk. Not to mention a narcissistic homophobe. Ugh.

    Jeez, why didn’t they just re-sign Josh Willingham, or Jason Kubel? They at least seem like decent guys, and I hear they’re available.

    Oh well. Torii will probably crash into a wall and be out for the season within two months anyway, and the youth movement can begin in earnest.

    • Kevin

      yeah, i wished they would have signed Aoki instead also. it will be curious to see what type of deal he gets.

  • by_jiminy

    Best case scenario: maybe they can trade him to Seattle at the deadline, or some other contender that needs a bat?

    At least it will keep them from rushing the young outfielders too early, just to mollify the fans. That’s something, anyway. I’d hate to see Buxton become the next Hicks. Make sure he’s actually ready.

  • Joel Thingvall

    Well, I think the branding marketing line of “The Future Is Around the Corner” was not going to sell season tickets. “Hunter Is Back, And So Are The Twins — Under New On-Field Leadership and Management” will. It is all about season ticket sales and putting butts in the seats. Hunter will give them both, as the wizards of off-field management continue to play smoke and mirrors. Hey, my wife says “Honey, we should get our season tickets back.” She doesn’t care that Hunter can’t bend over, or jump, or even hit the ball. All she sees is the smile and the personality and the hope that the future will be like the past.

  • ND-Fan

    Twins signed him for opening day attraction as well as somebody speak for club as player. Name me what other player will do that with the exception of maybe Dozier and Hunter may be player to put some fire into this passive group of players. Also it may be a good move for Hunter he spends early part of the season here with the Twins and at trading deadline he get moved to contender and possible chance at world series as player. Willingham had this happen last year and Hunter probably figures there’s greater chance of getting to contender this way than trying to pick one now and this is reason he chose a one year contract making it certain that he would be moved at the trading deadline. Also from Twins prospective this fills in outfield spot until Buxton, Sayno, and Rosario will be called up later this year because I am certain that all these player will begin playing in minor leagues. If Twins do catch magic and are in contention Hunter would be veteran that could help these kids that will be playing for the Twins. My scenario is that in July/August Hunter is traded making way for Buxton and Rosario to come up. Sayno has already been called up and is playing well at Third. Plouffe and Arcia are playing right field platooning, Buxton is in centerfield, and Rosario is in left giving Twin a very good defensive outfield and quite possibly a good hitting outfield. With pitching staff starting to click with call up couple of prospects and people are seeing that we could very well compete in 2016.

    • Dr. J

      Plus guys like Cuddyer, Morneau, and Liriano will be washed up free agents so the Twins can overpay them in 2016. Think how much fun it will be to watch Bobby Kielty hit .191 while Buxton sits in Triple A.

  • John Baranick

    Add another branch to the stupid tree.

  • D-Luxxx

    Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

    • D-Luxxx

      WTF? It’s like they
      just can’t help themselves. If, as so many others have pointed out, this
      is to put butts in seats now, then why not spend that money on a cornerstone
      who will actually continue to put butts in the seats for years to come?
      This may give a slight bump to season ticket numbers, but that only makes up a
      small percentage of their overall ticket revenue. Adding Hunter isn’t
      going to make this team better. It isn’t going to suddenly cause Target
      Field to start selling out every game again. It’s going to give them a
      slight bump for maybe a month before folks figure out it’s the same shit
      different season and they stop coming again.

      Torii Hunter is not what everyone seems to think he is. He’s a bigot,
      he’s a homophobe and he is abrasive with teammates. I don’t think this is a good signing. It isn’t even close to a good signing and name
      me as one who thinks that he’ll be much closer to Aaron’s worst case scenario than the best case.

      • D-Luxxx

        Also, hyperlink fails galore. I had linked to his calling Dominican players imposters, his saying that he would be uncomfortable playing with a gay player, his being restrained from fighting Pujols, his leaking of Prince Fielder’s marriage issues, and his taking a swing at Justin Morneau. He’s an ass, and I don’t think that’s the kind of leadership we need.

  • Oleandy

    None of your saber metrics take into account leadership. Leadership in an organization full of young potential superstars in immeasurable.

    • D-Luxxx

      See my above comments. The guy is not the kind of guy you want leading your team. Everybody thinks he’s some sort of great guy because the media paints him that way. He’s a walking quote for the media schlubs so they talk him up. He’s just a loudmouth.

    • Kavan

      The fact that it’s immeasurable is not a case to spend money on it (in fact the opposite is probably true). Wouldn’t it be better to spend money on things that are at least somewhat measurable like defense, or hitting ability? Consider two guys, one that is an average hitter, one that is an above average hitter, both are veterans. If we can’t measure leadership, why not spend the money on the above average hitter since we can’t see who’s a better leader (i.e. it’s immeasurable), and if he turns out to be a good leader, well thats a bonus.

      The fact that people keep citing Hunter’s leadership ability suggests they think leadership is measurable otherwise one couldn’t make the claim that Hunter is relatively good at it. That’s precisely why I don’t give any credence to arguments about leadership, it’s immeasurable. Just sign the veteran that’s good, and hope he can provide some leadership (but we wouldn’t be able to tell either way since it’s immeasurable).

  • RF Jim

    Absolutely over-the-hill and over rated. And I don’t see how his theatrics and drama translate into leadership.

  • GagneWithASpoon

    At Fangraphs, Hunter is projected for 1.7 WAR in 2015, which doesn’t seem terribly out of reach. That’s worth $10.5 million, with or without intangibles.

    Caveats apply, of course. Given his age, it might be less assured that he’ll meet his projections than a younger player (e.g., Aoki). But the younger free agents of comparable ability level may have been (a) more expensive and (b) less likely to sign a one-year deal. The factors on the farm militate against a longer, more expensive commitment to an outfielder.

    So, I don’t have such a problem with this contract on the merits. Hunter isn’t a perfect person or a perfect player, but he might be a perfect fit for the Twins.

  • dave

    meh. what I want to know is WHO HAS THE VIDEO OF THUNT v BAEZ CIRCA 2002?!?!?!?

  • Nick Holt

    The worst case scenario is the ‘Suzuki Scenario’ where Torii plays above his head for 2 months and the Twins sign him to a 2 year extension for $15/year…

  • RF Jim

    Guess we know who the prick in town is now.

  • FreeBirdTV

    Great move for the Twins. Usually respect your opinions Aaron, but you got this one wrong IMO.

    • Brad

      Can they un-sign him now?

  • BR

    One year deal, and they have money to spend. For all those clamoring for a more vocal, veteran presence in the clubhouse, they just go it. I agree with AG that a poor defensive OF was not really what the team needs on the field, but I’ll quibble a bit about the notion that TH would be an “average” offensive corner OF if he repeats last year’s numbers. Last year he was the #11 RF in wOBA. (wRC+ was similar.) There were 11 LFs with better wOBA. That’s just 21 corner OFs who were better. Upshot: Hunter’s still a solid offensive OF, and better than “average.”

  • Dookie

    I’ll never forget the second game of the ALDS against the A’s in 2006, when Hunter let a sinking liner get past him in center field and turned it into a two-run, game-winning, inside-the-park home run. That was perhaps the most talented Twins team since 1991 and they were favored to win that series. They had Morneau, Mauer and Santana at the height of their powers. It was probably their best chance to go deep into playoffs at any time during their 2000s run. That was the moment the shine came off Torii Hunter for me, and nothing has happened since to change my mind.

  • Dirk Pitt

    Bad move by Twins from a purely athletic and money reasons. But please get off the bigot stuff. He has an opinion about homosexuals? Too bad, so sad, but doesn’t make him a bigot because someone chooses to live a lifestyle he disagrees with. Bernadino was worse than the hack writer that he is, he purposely did what many in the media are doing, (Ferguson anyone?) trying to bait someone to sell papers. He is the worst kind of schill and the PI should dismiss him.

    • D-Luxxx

      “Too bad, so sad, but doesn’t make him a bigot because someone chooses to live a lifestyle he disagrees with.”
      Uhh, when did you decide you didn’t like penis anymore? If you really think its a choice, then you’re either deluded, or you’re bisexual. I’m straight, and I could never choose to be gay. I just couldn’t do it. So if you think someone can and would choose to become an abused, down trodden part of our society, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk of verbal and physical abuse, then I challenge you to become gay for a year just to prove it can be done.
      I don’t think you can do it. I know I couldn’t.