November 22, 2007

Report: Angels Sign Hunter

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Angels have signed Torii Hunter to a five-year contract worth $90 million. The move comes as a shock for several reasons, not the least of which is that the Angels handed center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. a five-year, $50 million contract last offseason and also have Reggie Willits, who seemingly combined to make them pretty well set as the position for the rest of the decade.

Beyond that, the White Sox and Rangers were thought to be the front-runners for Hunter, who had given little indication that the Angels were even a major factor and said earlier this week that a decision wouldn't be made until after Thanksgiving. Instead, an announcement was made in the wee hours Thursday morning and Hunter apparently felt strongly enough about heading to California that he inked the deal shortly after dining with Rangers owner Tom Hicks.

The Rangers and White Sox had both been very forthcoming publicly about their interest in Hunter and a handful of other teams had been linked to him, so it's possible that he left some money on the table by signing so quickly. Whatever the case, Hunter ends up with two more seasons and an additional $45 million over what was reportedly the Twins' best offer to re-sign him, which is why the odds of his remaining in Minnesota have realistically been close to non-existent for months now.

Hunter remaining in the AL isn't ideal, but signing with the Angels beats joining the White Sox or even the Royals. The good news is that because the Angels finished with a winning record in 2007, the Twins will receive the 27th overall pick June's draft as compensation for losing Hunter. Had he signed with the White Sox, Rangers, Dodgers, Nationals, Royals, Astros, Reds, or any other sub-.500 team, the Twins would have received a supplemental first rounder instead.

With Hunter now officially out of the picture, Bill Smith and the Twins can finally move on to finding his replacement in center field. Interestingly, Willits was one of 25 potential Hunter replacements who were examined in this space two weeks ago. I wrote at the time that Willits "seems like a prototypical Angels player and might be tough to pry away," but that could change with Hunter now making their outfield even more crowded. If you're curious, Matthews has a full no-trade clause through 2009.

Losing Hunter hurts, both because he was the team's most popular player for the past decade and because it's difficult to replace a good defensive center fielder who's hit .271/.324/.469. With that said, the writing has clearly been on the wall for quite a while and the way Hunter that handled his pending free agency during the past eight months makes it easier to see him go. He gave the Twins a lot of good years and I wish him luck with the Angels, but moving on might be best for everyone involved.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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