• At the press conference announcing his $10.5 million contract Torii Hunter used the "those nerds never played the game" cliche when asked about his terrible defensive numbers and then called Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press "a prick" four different times in response to questions about Hunter's very public and repeated stance against gay rights. As if there weren't already enough reasons to question to wisdom of signing him for purely on-field reasons.
• Parker Hageman of Twins Daily went inside the numbers to show why Hunter's defense rates so poorly, including video of specific plays. Hageman played the game in high school, so not sure if that counts or what.
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.
When the Twins fired Ron Gardenhireafter 13 seasons as manager the idea of blowing up the coaching staff and rebuilding everything from scratch with outside hires sounded appealing given the organization's struggles, but choosing Paul Molitor over Torey Lovulloas the new manager squashed that notion. Molitor is the epitome of an in-house hire and in filling out his coaching staff the Twins have continued to lean heavily on current and former members of the organization.
Bench coach seemed to be a very important hire considering Molitor's complete lack of managing experience and the overall lack of big-league experience throughout his staff. Instead of stepping outside of the organization for a veteran with previous managing experience the job went to Joe Vavra, a longtime member of Gardenhire's staff who was reassigned from hitting coach to third base coach two years ago and has no professional managing experience above Single-A.
Tom Brunansky, who was on Gardenhire's staff with Molitor and Vavra, stays on as hitting coach after the Twins ranked fifth among AL teams in scoring. Brunansky replaced Vavra as hitting coach in 2013 after working his way up through the minors amid praise for his coaching of Double-A and Triple-A hitters. If any member of the coaching staff deserved to stay it was Brunansky, whose presence was one of the few major coaching changes made under Gardenhire in the first place.
Brunansky's assistant hitting coach is Rudy Hernandez, who was promoted from rookie-league manager after 14 years in the organization. Hernandez is the first assistant hitting coach in Twins history, as teams began adding the position a few years ago. He's coached many players on the current roster as well as many prospects soon to arrive in Minnesota and the 46-year-old's ability to speak Spanish is a welcomed addition that had been severely lacking with Twins coaches.
Gene Glynn joins the staff as third base coach after spending the past three seasons managing the team's Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. He interviewed to replace Gardenhire, but unlike fellow interviewee Doug Mientkiewicz the Twins felt the Minnesota native was worth adding to the staff after passing on him as manager. At age 58 he's definitely paid his dues, managing, coaching, and scouting in the minors and majors for numerous organizations.
Eddie Guardado, who has zero coaching experience since retiring in 2009, takes over as bullpen coach. He's certainly familiar with the Twins' bullpen, spending a dozen seasons there, including back-to-back 40-save seasons as the team's closer in 2002 and 2003. As a player Guardado was boisterous, jovial, quotable, and well-liked, which is probably a decent recipe for success in a role that generally doesn't receive much attention.
With first base coach the lone vacant position, Neil Allen is the only true outside hire, beating out former Twins reliever Carl Willis for the pitching coach job after filling the same role at Triple-A in the Rays organization from 2007-2014. Former pitching coach Rick Anderson was Gardenhire's right-hand man for the entirety of his 13-year tenure and became the target of heavy criticism when the pitching staff ranked 29th, 29th, 28th, and 29th in runs allowed from 2011-2014.
Allen preaches many of the same things Anderson did, chief among them limiting walks, but unlike Anderson he has a long history of helping to develop successful young pitchers that have been the lifeblood of the Rays' low-payroll success. He pitched 11 seasons in the majors as a reliever--and actually had poor control himself, walking 3.8 batters per nine innings--and at age 56 he's been praised for the same open-mindedness, intelligence, and innovation the Rays were built on.
In hiring Molitor the Twins made it clear that they don't view lack of experience as a negative and in filling out his coaching staff they made it equally clear that they continue to view staying in-house and promoting from within as positives despite four straight 90-loss seasons. I have no major issues with any of the individual hires, but I feel silly for believing they might actually go outside of the organization to find a new manager and new coaches. Should have known better.