Happy Thanksgiving, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In a stunning move that rocked those paying attention late Wednesday, Nov. 21, the Angels swooped in and signed free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter (Minnesota Twins) to what is believed to be a five-year contract worth $80 million, according to ESPN.
The move surprised many who believed the Angels didn't need another outfielder in the lineup, and it may have created a logjam. The signing likely pushes Gary Matthews Jr. from center to a depth role at all three outfield spots. With outfielders Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero expected to spend more time in a designated-hitter role in 2008, Matthews should still see plenty of chances to play left and right field. A good prospect like Reggie Willits could either head back to the minors or possibly out of the organization.
Prior to the Wednesday stunner, teams like the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers were believed to be the front-runners for Hunter's services. The Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Kansas City Royals were also looking at Hunter, while the Twins were believed to be also-rans in the sweepstakes.
Hunter made fantasy owners delighted last year, as he hit a career-high 107 RBIs in 2007 in addition to hitting .287 with 28 home runs. Finishing 15th in the AL MVP Award balloting, Hunter claimed his seventh consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award last year. He also had 18 stolen bases last season.
The Angels hope the Hunter they get is able to stay healthy. Hand, finger, hamstring and shoulder injuries nipped at Hunter's heels during the 2007 season, forcing him to miss small amounts of time here and there. While he played in 160 games last year, he was limited to 147 in 2006, 98 in 2005 and 138 in 2004.
The signing will add to an already explosive lineup that ranked fourth in the majors in total offense. The lineup that already includes Guerrero and Matthews should keep the Angels atop the American League West, barring a huge injury to Hunter.
Where Hunter will fall in the batting order is yet to be determined. However, his versatility allows him to hit anywhere in the lineup, which could also help his fantasy value in the coming year. Not only is he likely to be better protected in the lineup, he should also see a chance at pushing in more runs due to better batters potentially being in front of him. If he is able to push his average up closer to .300, he could be a solid four-category player during the coming season.
About Steve Ungrey
Steve Ungrey has been playing fantasy baseball since 1994. An avid baseball nut, he may be one of the only people who starts the spring training countdown immediately after the final out of the World Series. If there's a fantasy baseball or baseball preview magazine for 2003, chances are he has it. A sportswriter at The Grand Rapids Press, Steve has written for KFFL since 2001, concentrating on improving the site's baseball coverage but also helping the site with its unparalleled football coverage.
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