It seems like it was just yesterday that the Angels made the biggest free agent splashes in Halo history with the signings of Albert Pujols and C.J Wilson. The Dipoto era has been a sweet one so far even if it’s only been a few months, and we still have years and years of this to look forward to. Now the Angels are obviously done with making big franchise changing moves this off-season, and even though the season hasn’t started yet I can’t help but scratch my head wondering exactly what Dipoto is going to do about Torii Hunter. A few months ago Hunter made it public that he was contemplating retirement, yet just mere hours after the signing of Pujols, Torii made it known that he wanted to stay with the Angels for multiple years after his contract expires. Well that’s good and all; we all love Torii and would be happy to see him back, but this decision to return something that’s out of his hands?
I don’t want Torii to just be a flashback, at least not for a few more years.
I can’t think of a single team that wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to re-sign a player that has undeniably been the face of the franchise for the past 5 years, especially when that player is Torii Hunter. He keeps fans coming to the ballpark, he a huge influence on the younger players, and most importantly he can lead a ball club, but there is the nagging question of his age and if he can keep his performance up. Last season wasn’t so great for Hunter, at first, it seemed as if he age had gotten the best of him, but an astounding 2nd half resurgence kept hope alive that maybe, just maybe he could keep it up for a few years. However, even if Torii can have a bounce-back season it won’t seal his return to Anaheim, as there are bigger factors that will come into play then his ability to produce.
Get this, Torii told the media that he wanted to come back to the Angels for multiple years, and he would even take a paycut to do it. That’s a great commitment to make for your team; even if it is a little obvious that he would have to take a big paycut to come back because there is no way the Angels will toss Torii 19mil for the next 2 or 3 years. Torii’s going to obviously have a reduced role with the team, he won’t be seeing any days as a regular starter anymore, so you can probably count him to make no more than 10mil, maybe more if the Angels really value his intangibles.
So let’s pretend we’re Dipoto and Scioscia for a minute, we REALLY want Torii back, but we have no room for him on the team. Where does he fit into the Angels future plans? Depending on how the Trumbo experiment works at 3B Trumbo can either gradually see his time increase at 3B until he is manning the hot corner full-time, or he can take a starting role in RF. I wouldn’t mind seeing Trumbo play RF, even though he may not be able to cover much ground in RF he has an absolute cannon for an arm, having Trumbo in RF would be a lot like the good old days when Big Daddy Vladdy manned RF. With Torii coming off the bench in late game position changes, pinch hitting situations or anytime you want a veteran you can trust at the plate he’ll effectively be taking over Abreu’s role on the team.
Hold on a second there, won’t Kendrys be out full-time DH? Well, assuming he can come back from his injury then yes, he most likely will be getting the majority of the DH AB’s ASSUMING the Angels see fit to resign him. Now, this isn’t an airheaded front office like we’re so used to dealing with, so if Kendrys earns a new contract on the field he’ll be getting one in the offseason. Hell, he might even get a mid-season contract extension if he does well enough, you wouldn’t want to let a re-surged Kendrys out into the free agent market for someone to snatch him up. Nope, not with a lineup containing proven power threats such as Pujols and Trumbo, even Torii Hunter can be considered a power threat though his power isn’t nearly as devastating as our bigger power threats. You could even pencil Wells in as a power threat if he can get his act together, and seeing as how he no longer has to sit under the spotlight now that Pujols has been signed, it isn’t too far off to assume Wells can return to his 2010 All-Star form.
If Kendrys manages to rebound then Hunter is most likely reduced to a major bench player, like Lamar Odom as the Lakers 6th man, but if Kendrys crashes and burns hard then Wells and Hunter is most likely to share DH AB’s. Wells will no longer be our everyday LF’er, that’s going to be in the hands of Mike Trout. You would think that Well’s albatross of a contract would prevent the Angels from taking a leap and resigning Hunter to a small multi-year deal, yet that was before the Angels got a massive TV deal that virtually makes them the West Coast Yankees that Moreno had dreamed of since he bought the team. Money is no longer a problem for this team, the only thing that would get in the way of a Hunter re-signing is if he is still a valuable player and if he can fit into the roster without being squeezed into it.
This is slightly unrelated, but there’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately, and it has to do with Pujols. It’s obvious that he’s going to have an effect on this team’s hitting like Abreu did when he joined the squad, except with Pujols you can assume the team’s power numbers will see a jump. Torii Hunter has always had a good power stroke, it’s nothing too big but it’s something that can definitely depend on when you need it to come through, and it’s been making me wonder what kind of effect Pujols’ teachings will have on Hunter. If you were watching the Pujols/Wilson press conference and stuck around after the initial conference was over you would have heard Hunter make a few remarks regarding Pujols as a mentor. Basically what’s going to happen is Hunter will soak up everything Pujols has to teach him like a rookie first making his jump into the big leagues. Would it be too far-fetched to imagine that Hunter’s bat could see a very noticeable improvement just from playing on the same team as Pujols? Well, maybe his bat won’t be getting better, but he’ll definitely have better AB’s batting around Pujols much like the benefits Berkman received from batting around Pujols. If Berkman could have such a massive rebound year after struggling the year before just from being in the same lineup as Pujols then I’ll be definitely looking forward to seeing what kind of year Hunter will have.
Lastly, there is one word that will play the biggest factor of Hunter’s possible resigning next year: CHAMPIONSHIP. Hunter deserves to go out as a World Series champion, if the Angels do happen to win the big show next year then will Hunter stick around to play a few more years or will he take a final bow before the team that has shown him so much love these past 5 years and gracefully exit as the curtain comes to a close? Whatever happens with Torii all I know is one thing, whether he decides to retire next off-season or he comes back to play another 3 or 4 years, I won’t be happy unless he goes out a champion.