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Signed RF-R Torii Hunter to a one-year deal worth $10.5 million. [12/2]
Nostalgia is an odd phenomenon. Because of nostalgia, I have an unrelenting affinity for Blink-182’s Enema of the State, which I used to listen to constantly in college while hanging out with a close friend I rarely see anymore. Because of nostalgia I love the smell of Jasmine flowers—in my parents' homeland of India, which I haven't seen in a decade and a half, it’s common for women to put garlands of it in their hair. And some would argue that because of nostalgia the Minnesota Twins just vastly overpaid to get Torii Hunter back in town.
Outside of nostalgia—and leadership, which I’ll address shortly—it’s hard to see why the Twins would spend such a large amount of money on Hunter. Once a perennial Gold Glover, Hunter has been relegated to right field exclusively for the past three seasons and played just one game in center in 2011. Even in right, he’s a well below-average fielder, posting negative ratings over the past two seasons in UZR (-22.4), DRS (-28), FRAA (-23.8). If Hunter is getting paid for his glove work, whoever is writing the checks is judging him off work from a decade ago.
After a strong season with the bat in 2012 (.313/.365/.451) netted him a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers, Hunter has seen his wRC+ trend down (131, 117, 113) since. And while he’s still a slightly above-average bat, he’s entering his age-39 season, and expecting a tick up in offense would be nothing more than wishcasting.
Hunter isn’t a bad player, but he provides little more than replacement level value with what he brings to the plate and with the glove. So then what could possibly have justified the Twins giving Hunter $10.5 million?
— Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl) December 3, 2014
Now, this is just a reporter sharing his thoughts about what Hunter brings to the table. It certainly isn’t Terry Ryan stating that the Twins handed Hunter a sizable amount of money just to be a team leader and set a good example for a talented group of kids the organization will be promoting in the next year. In fact, it’s quite possible that Ryan believes Hunter’s bat is nearly worth that type of deal on its own, with the leadership aspect just making it easier to justify the expense.
It’s impossible to truly judge the value of leadership, of a veteran who proves to be an impactful mentor for talented youth. Regardless of what his value is on the field, Hunter certainly has earned a reputation of possessing the type of intangibles that front offices with precocious teams crave. But it’s likely that if you’re going to spend money on a player whose primary value comes from being a leader and you’re working on a tight budget (which the Twins always are), then perhaps paying that player double what the top managers in baseball are making isn’t the wisest decision. Since leadership can’t truly be measured, one could argue that Hunter really is worth that type of money because the amount of wins he adds by the example he sets with his impressive work ethic. But the market has dictated what those players get, barring significant talent. Raul Ibanez, Jason Giambi, Eric Hinske, and Carlos Pena, to name a few, have stuck around the big-leagues despite being unproductive on the field, simply because of their perceived value in the clubhouse. But they were making a fraction of what Hunter is guaranteed in 2015: $2.9 million for Pena, $2.75 million for Ibanez, $750,000 for Giambi.
It’s a good story to see Hunter return to where he became a star, where he established himself as one of the better center fielders of the 2000s. It brings back great memories of what the former defensive standout once was—but that's all past tense. It’s only for one year, so it won't handcuff the Twins for years to come, but it’s hardly a leap to say those funds could have been allocated better.
Seeing Hunter in a Twins uniform once again will bring visions of robbed home runs at the Metrodome, like a certain song can recall an unforgettable college road trip or the whiff of a particular flower creates fond recollections of a far-off country. But it’s nothing but nostalgia.—Sahadev Sharma
A defensive decline has suppressed Hunter’s real life value, but he’s still doing enough at the dish to be counted on in the fantasy realm. Hunter saw his BABIP decline for the second consecutive season and was still able to hit .286. More importantly, he maintained his .160 ISO from 2013 and should be able to slug another 15 home runs, at least. Going back to the Twins’ lineup leaves the floor for his run totals a little shakier, but the ballpark switch from Detroit’s Comerica Park isn’t substantial. At this stage of his career Hunter might be overlooked by others come draft day, but he still earned $19 in mixed leagues last year. When your competition is bidding up guys like Lorenzo Cain, who had a .380 BABIP and five home runs last year, don’t forget about old reliable. —Nick Shlain