Hunter the New Angel in the Outfield
As the East Coast turned to Thanksgiving Day, the West Coast stuffed in one more free agency signing before football stole the spotlight. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim snagged outfielder Torii Hunter (Twins) with a five-year, $90 million deal, finally acquiring a big bat to protect outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.
Hunter had long been viewed as the offensive leader of his former team, the Minnesota Twins, before the arrival of both first baseman Justin Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer. As one of baseball's elite defensive centerfielders, he was the face of the franchise, and now he has shaved the light-pocketed Twins from his chin. He moves to one of the more surprising offenses from the 2007 season; the Angels lineup, which early in the season was widely viewed as weak in terms of offensive pop, finished fourth in the majors in total offense.
Money Year in 2007
In a contract year, Hunter batted .287 with 28 home runs, 107 RBI and an .839 OPS. These pretty much guaranteed at least a spike in his asking price in a thin free agent market. Prominently known for a tumultuous injury history, Hunter's health has been on the upswing in the past two seasons. After playing in just 98 games in 2005 (his career single-season low) he took the field for 147 games last year and 160 games in 2007. His batting average was his highest figure since his .289 mark in 2002, and he reached career highs with 45 doubles and 94 runs scored.
Table: Torii Hunter's Statistics, Last Three Seasons
The seven-time Gold Glove winner will most likely push 35-year-old Garret Anderson into the designated hitter spot and could shift outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. over to left field. Hunter's move to Angel Stadium - a hitters' park - could prompt statisticians to drool over his potential, and the outfielder has a chance to improve on his 2007 total of 18 steals under manager Mike Scioscia, whose aggressive baserunning philosophy could see Hunter return to the upper echelon of the steals category.
Hunter should fall in at about fifth or sixth in the batting order. The Angels might decide to line up their heart of their order with the left-handed-hitting Anderson in the cleanup spot between the right-handed-hitting Guerrero and Hunter. In 222 at-bats in the five-hole for Minnesota, Hunter hit .284 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI; he also hit .310-10-44 in 168 at-bats at the sixth spot.
Will Hunter settle in comfortably with his new deal? He will be entering his 10th major league season, and he will have to hold up in a more aggressive offense. His career OPS of .793 still leaves a bit to be desired (especially with his .324 career on-base percentage).
Hunter might have merely peaked at the right time in his career. Although he leaves the rough turf of the Metrodome, his existing service in the majors already puts him on the downswing of his career; he's a much older 32-year-old given his recent ankle and ligament injuries. The book on Hunter has already been written, so you know what you're getting.
He should fit in nicely as his combination of speed with just enough power makes him an ideal candidate for the Angels' love for running. His superb outfield defense will certainly pay off the value of his contract. With the inclusion of another piece to their offensive puzzle and the rise of many of their young stars, this could be a big year in Disneyland. Oh, and for those who enjoy subplots, the Angels are tentatively scheduled to open the 2008 season in Minneapolis.
Hunter still makes for a valuable fantasy option, but fantasy owners should not rush to make him a high-tier pick even in his new hitter-friendly environment. Given Hunter's injury history and erratic batting averages, there are safer and younger options on the draft board that could still contribute in every category, with similar-tier outfielders including Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis and Colorado Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe.
Even with tempered expectations, Hunter still presents an above-average value in the power categories. Hunter could go as high as the sixth round, but with all things equal he belongs in the eighth or ninth round. He could be a solid No. 2 outfielder for the coming year and would be an outstanding option if you could grab him as a No. 3.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous publications, and recognized as a finalist in FSWA's awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he's on The Reality Check with Glenn Clark every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. He hits the airwaves every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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