The Twins announced their newest free agent signee on Wednesday and had an introductory press conference the same day but Torii Hunter needs no introduction here in Twins Territory. Hunter was the Twins first round pick in 1993 and he made his big league debut in a pinch-running role with the club at the age of 22 at Camden Yards. He became the Twins starting center fielder in 1999 and kept that job until he left as a free agent after the 2007 season to sign with the Angels. Torii played for the Angels from 2008-2012 before moving on to the Tigers where he spent the last two seasons.
Rumors have been circulating for some time now that the Twins and Hunter had a mutual interest in joining forces again and yesterday it became a reality when the Twins signed the 39 year-old Hunter to a one-year $10.5 million deal that supposedly includes a full no trade clause.
I had written a piece about the Twins/Hunter romance back on November 23 and it was a real head scratcher to me then and it still is today. I know the Twins outfield situation is a mess but I am not sure that throwing $10.5 million to Hunter is the answer. Hunter no longer can play center field and the Twins have stated that Hunter will play right field and Oswaldo Arcia will move to left field. Apparently center field will again be patrolled by Aaron Hicks if he shows anything at all with the bat. The fallback plan would be Danny Santana who apparently will be given a shot to win the shortstop job if Hicks holds on to center field but the Twins aren’t talking about shortstop too much right now. Terry Ryan did say that the focus will now turn to pitching so that means that the club will go with an in-house center fielder. Who ever plays center for a year or two is just a place-holder for Byron Buxton who hopefully can have a healthy and productive season in 2015 and maybe, just maybe get a September call-up for a taste of big league coffee.
If Twins fans are looking forward to seeing the Torii Hunter of old, they will be sorely disappointed. I have always liked Torii Hunter, who doesn’t? The man has a million dollar smile and a personality to match but he will be 40 in July and baseball skills start to erode pretty quickly when you get around the 40 mark. The man is a winner although the World Series has eluded him in his 18 years in the big leagues. The odds of him getting there with Minnesota, at least as a player are slim to none. Hunter said that he wanted to finish his career at home and he calls the Minnesota Twins home so maybe after he hangs up his spikes as a player the organization will have another role for him. Hunter knows how to play the game and hopefully he can teach some of the Twins players what it takes to get that done.
From the Twins perspective this deal fills a couple of needs. First of all it fills a corner outfield role that was in essence vacant. Although the Twins organization will not admit it the Twins team has a no leader and many times has looked like they are just going through the motions. The only players that the Twins have that show any passion at all are Brian Dozier, Casey Fien, and Glen Perkins. Hunter can help with that problem for sure. From the non-baseball side this helps the Twins organization sell some tickets. Hunter has always been a popular player and his coming back to Minnesota may help persuade a few season ticket-holders to re-up for one more season. The Twins are in desperate straits and anything they can do to stop the hemorrhaging of season ticket holders is worth a try. I think the team has a bright future but they need to find a way to hold on to their fan base because once that train leaves the station it takes lots of time and money to get it back
There are some good reasons to put Torii back in a Twins uniform, I just don’t think that signing him will do much for the Twins record in 2015. However, if you look at this signing as an investment for the future, bringing Torii home to Minnesota might make some sense. I hope so because I hate to see anyone waste $10.5 million and I want the Minnesota Twins to learn how to win and play good baseball again before I get too much older.
Welcome back Torii Hunter!