Tuesday Night, May 29, 2007
More on Torii
I was thinking today again about the Twins decision with Torii Hunter in the offseason or, if the Twins are out of contention in July, their decisions at that time. Previously, I thought there were several reasons not to sign Hunter. The punch at Morneau two seasons ago. The mocking of Mauer and Morneau. The fact that he actually said that he had no reason to listen to Joe Vavra as his batting coach (good thing he finally did, huh?). Money. Other priorities. The possibility that Denard Span might be ready.
Well, I think we can pretty much cross off the Denard Span possibility. He's not ready, and it could be argued that he may never be. Hunter does seem to be a better teammate again, although that took too long. He definitely respects Mauer and Morneau now that they are veterans. Hunter is putting together his best season so far. No question about it. He is hitting for power, hitting in the clutch, driving in runs, stealing bases. He does appear to be healthy. Combining these things and more, there are really just two legitimate reasons to not sign Torii Hunter. I want to discuss them briefly. Hey, check out Stick & Ball Guy's (ok, ubelman's) comparison of Hunter to the other centerfielders... He will get paid!
The first is that there are other priorities, and there should be. The likes of Johan Santana, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have to be signed first. They will all make a lot of money. I would rank the importance of Hunter ahead of Joe Nathan (because I think that Nathan's 70 innings are replaceable). If the Twins choose to keep Hunter at market value (years and dollars), they will not be able to keep at least one of those above names. Not only that, but the decisions to keep potential arbitration-eligible players will be greatly reduced, much less signing other free agents.
But the main area that concerns me when it comes to signing Hunter is the number of years that it will take. I think that the market will insist that Torii Hunter get a five or six year contract. That is the number that scares me. If Hunter were willing to sign a two year deal at $14 million a year, I wouldn't bash that completely. However, I would probably be more harsh on a five or six year deal at $14-16 million per year. Why? Well, he might be worth the money in year one, and he might be worth it in year two. In year three, he will turn 35 years old midseason. He'll be 36 in Year 4, 37 in year five and 38 in year six. Is it possible that he will play at this level, a $13-15 million level, for the next six years? Maybe. Is it likely? Not at all. And that isn't anything against Torii Hunter. He is a great athlete and it is possible he won't take a huge tumble. But it would be more than a little risky.
To me, if the Twins signed Torii Hunter to a five year, $80 million contract, it would be a Yankees-like contract, and do Twins fans really want that? I mean, think about it. When the Yankees signed Johnny Damon a year and a half ago, we all knew he wouldn't hold up over the life of the four year contract. And, he broke down in year two. He is about two years older than Hunter. Bobby Abreu was one of baseball's best all-around players just a little over a year ago. This year, his play has taken a downturn. He is about 15 months older than Hunter. Jason Giambi is 36 years old. He can hit an occasional long ball and take plenty of walks, but he is not the player he was (and it isn't just whatever the 'stuff' was). Hideki Matsui is about to turn 33, and he isn't the same player as he was two years ago. Mike Mussina isn't what he once was. Roger Clemens may help the Yankees, but he can't do what he did in the National League the last couple of seasons. Mariano Rivera isn't the pitcher he was two or three years ago. I may just be using Yankees examples, but I think you can find a lot of situations where signing a free agent to a long term deal after the age of 30 just doesn't make a lot of sense.
Think the Houston Astros were happy to pay Jeff Bagwell? Do you think the Cubs will regret signing Alfonso Soriano for eight years after about three years? Think the Rangers are rethinking their decision to sign Vicente Padilla long term? Remember all those big contracts that the Devil Rays gave out years ago to the likes of Greg Vaughn and others?
It is hard to know what a player will do in his mid and upper 30s. But we do know that for the average player, there is a dip after age 32 or 33. Part of the Twins small market mentality is to eliminate as much risk, particularly long term, as possible. Will Torii Hunter back up his 2007 with a big 2008? Maybe. Will he have a solid 2009? Very possible. Will he put up numbers worth $15 million or more when he is 35? Has Hunter had any history in his background? Yes. Since speed and defense are big parts of his game, would those injuries ever hurt him in those areas? I would say that foot and leg injuries would hurt an outfielder like Hunter. We saw that the last couple of years. Age isn't as forgiving.
So, to summarize, I am very mixed on what the Twins should do with Torii Hunter. It isn't as cut and dry as it was last July. Then, Hunter was a way-overpaid guy who talked too much. Since last August, he has been a very well paid, very productive player. But what does the future hold? Big free agent contracts recognize what a player has done in his past, in most cases. For the Twins, it is vital that the free agent contract recognize what a player will do over the course of that contract. As for what to do... my response right now is nothing. The Twins need to keep playing and see where they are in July. If they are out of contention and certain that he will not give the Twins a reasonable "discount," they should absolutely consider trading him in a deal that would bring back the Twins centerfielder of the future (Jacoby Ellsbury would be nice!) If the Twins are in contention, just let him play out the contract and see what happens. Offer him arbitration because you HAVE TO receive at least the two draft picks that he would get for the Twins. Worst case, he accepts arbitration and costs the Twins a lot of money... in 2008, and not beyond.
I am curious about your thoughts. Have they changed at all? I hate to bring up recurring topics, but this is obviously important, and the answer can and likely will change frequently.
That is it for now. I will be back later with my #31-40 Twins prospects, thoughts on the Twins/White Sox game, and the minor league update. Enjoy the game!|
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