Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Full circle

If my Minnesota Twins had signed any 39-year old free agent outfielder who put up decent offensive numbers in 2014 but whose defensive prowess was awful, I would be utterly stupefied by such a move.

Ah, but this isn't just any 39-year old outfielder.

Torii Hunter, the 16-year veteran free-agent outfielder, is returning to his roots with the Minnesota Twins.

"You talk about true love,'' Hunter told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "That's the Twins right there.''

Hunter, after playing five seasons for the Los Angeles Angels and two with the Detroit Tigers, signed a one-year, $10.5 million deal with the Twins, the team announced Wednesday.

The Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles were also reportedly in the running for Hunter.

Hunter, 39, played his first full season for the Twins in 1999. He has made five All-Star appearances and won nine Gold Glove Awards and two Silver Slugger Awards. He is a career .279 hitter with 331 homers and 1,310 RBIs.

Quite obviously this signing is more for intangibles than anything else. First off, it'a good public relations move. This year's Twins season ticket renewals were quite feeble and the club doesn't have the MLB All Star Game in 2015 to serve as an enticement. As such, it makes sense to bring back perhaps the most popular Twins player since Kirby Puckett. In addition to P.R., the Twins organization hopes Hunter's impact lasts beyond this one season. Outfielder Aaron Hicks, whom the club was high on but thus far has been a disappointment, grew up idolizing Hunter. Perhaps Hunter's presence and keen insights will be just what Hicks needs to rev up what has been a sluggish start to his MLB career. It would also be nice to have Hunter's demeanor in what has been a dormant Twins clubhouse the past four seasons, especially when stud prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano arrive sometime in 2015.

While Hunter was still a productive offensive player in 2014 (.286 BA with 17 HRs and 83 RBIs), his outfield defense was horrid. Since the Twins scored the 7th most runs in all of Major League Baseball last season but ranked in the bottom four in each of 4 major pitching categories (ERA, Quality Starts, WHIP and Batting Average allowed), adding a merely decent bat at $10.5 million makes little to no sense from an on-field standpoint. However, that's just further evidence that the Twins (especially new manager Paul Molitor) are banking on Hunter providing a valuable mentoring role, which was similar to what Molitor provided Hunter when the two were in the Twins organization from 1996 through 1998.

Given this is only a 1-year deal, it wouldn't exactly be an utter disaster if Hunter is a complete bust. However, it will be interesting to see how he would react if the Twins are in the midst of yet another lost season by July. In the past 14 seasons of his career, Hunter has been on only two teams with losing records (the 2007 Twins were 79-83; 2010 Angels were 80-82). But neither of those teams were as utterly inept as the Twins of 2011 through 2014, who have averaged nearly 96 losses per year.

It goes without saying that I would rather not witness how Hunter would endure a dreadful 2015.


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