Although he still looks better than 99.99999999% of us, Torii Hunter is starting to show his age. The former Twin turns 37 in July and has spent the last 19 years in the high stress world of professional baseball. While he’s still got that winning smile, Hunter’s face offers a more mature look these days. It’s just another sign the Twins glory days of the 2000s are fading into the past.
That’s not to say Hunter isn’t still a productive and valuable player. He overcame a slow start to hit .262/.336/.429 with 23 homers and 88 RBI in 2011. His Angels even made a late charge at the AL West title, but were ultimately unable to unseat Texas.
Even so, Hunter is a rightfielder now and his wall crashing days are mostly behind him. He hasn’t won a Gold Glove since 2009 and is scheduled to make made $18 million in 2012. It’s safe to say the Twins made a wise choice not retaining him for that price after the 2007 season. None of that of course, diminishes our memories of his often spectacular play – especially in the outfield – and his tremendous contributions toward making baseball relevant again in Minnesota.
At first glance, the Angels’ addition of Albert Pujols would appear to be a blessing to Hunter. The game’s most feared hitter should provide protection for the entire line-up and take pressure off the aging outfielder. Instead, it’s only turned up the heat on Hunter.
Entering the last season of his 5-year, $90 million contract, Hunter is being pushed by young, talented and much cheaper players like Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. With Pujols on board, first base is no longer an option for Trumbo.
Although he says he’d like to stay in Anaheim, it’s very unlikely Hunter will be an Angel in 2013. If the price is right however, I wouldn’t rule out a return to Minnesota. Hunter could provide a veteran, productive righthanded bat, DH and play some outfield for the Twins. He’d also help fill the huge leadership vacuum that exists in the clubhouse.
While he wouldn’t be the same player who streaked across the Metrodome turf and sent ripples up the blue outfield walls, Hunter could still cover the vast Target Field outfield competently and soak up some well deserved cheers from the Minnesota faithful.