Torii Hunter Rumors

Twins Sign Torii Hunter

12:04pm: Hunter’s contract contains a full no-trade clause, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter).

11:45am: Though he reportedly drew interest from a wide number of clubs, Torii Hunter‘s career has officially come full circle, as the Twins today announced the signing of their former star center fielder to a one-year, $10.5MM deal. Hunter is a client of Reynolds Sports Management.

MLB: ALDS-Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles-Workouts

Hunter’s contract falls well shy of the two-year, $22MM pact that I predicted for him recently. But as I noted then, it would not be surprising to see him take a lesser deal for a preferred destination. It appears that is precisely what occurred here, as Hunter took the opportunity to return to the place where he became a star. Indeed, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweeted last night that Hunter had similar one-year offers from other clubs and also had some two-year opportunities but “wanted to come home.” He’ll serve as Minnesota’s right fielder in 2015, per Wolfson, with Oswaldo Arcia presumably shifting to left field.

While Hunter is no longer the all-around force he was in his prime, he remains quite a valuable and consistent producer as he enters his age-39 season. Last year marked the ninth in a row in which Hunter outperformed the league average offensive line by at least 10%, a rather remarkable achievement.

For Minnesota, Hunter’s value goes well beyond on-field production. His veteran presence will no doubt be welcome, especially with respect to young center field prospect Byron Buxton. Drafted 20th overall by Minnesota in 1993, Hunter spent 11 years in the Twins organization, eventually emerging as the team’s star center fielder and one of the game’s better all-around players. He ultimately ran up nine straight gold gloves after taking the reins up the middle for Minnesota, though the final two came with the Angels after he left via free agency.

Of course, Hunter’s performance in the field is precisely the area of concern at this late stage of his career. While he rated as an above average defender (and overall 5+ win player) just two years ago, Hunter has faded badly in the past two seasons in right. A return to average defending — whether or not extra rest is needed to make that possible — could make this signing return solid value to Minnesota in terms of production.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today first reported the agreement on Twitter. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted the terms of the contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Twins Notes: Coaches, Yang, Pitching Targets, Hunter, Duensing

The Twins announced the hiring of longtime Orioles minor league coach Butch Davis as their first base coach yesterday, adding to their recent list of coaching additions. While they’ve drawn a bit of flak for keeping most of their hires in-house, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports (Twitter link) that Minnesota reached out to recently dismissed Cubs skipper Rick Renteria about the bench coach vacancy (since filled by internal candidate Joe Vavra), but Renteria declined to interview. Similarly, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the Twins wanted Delino DeShields to serve as their first base coach, but he took a position managing the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate, as his ultimate goal is to manage in the Majors someday.

Here’s more on the Twins…

  • GM Terry Ryan told reporters yesterday, including La Valle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, that Minnesota did not win the bidding for Korean lefty Hyeon-jong Yang (Twitter link). There was some confusion as to whether the Twins or Rangers won the bidding, with some speculating that they made very similar bids. The point is moot, regardless, as the KIA Tigers did not accept the winning bid for their top pitcher’s services, as it was deemed too low.
  • The Twins have interest in right-hander Edinson Volquez, reports Wolfson. Additionally, they’ve had conversations with agent Greg Genske, who represents both Francisco Liriano and Brett Anderson. Minnesota is expected to meet with Justin Masterson‘s agent next week at the Winter Meetings, and they met with CAA (the agency that represents Jake Peavy and Nori Aoki) at last month’s GM Meetings, Wolfson adds. However, there’s no real traction on either CAA client at this time.
  • Wolfson also tweets that the Twins have made an official offer to Torii Hunter, who is expected to reach a decision soon. The Rangers are said to be pushing hard for Hunter, who reportedly prefers to sign with a contender. That makes a return to Minnesota seem doubtful.
  • The Twins have given no indication that they plan to non-tender southpaw reliever Brian Duensing today, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Duensing, 31, is projected to earn $2.5MM in arbitration and was listed by MLBTR as a non-tender candidate.

Rangers Pushing For Torii Hunter; Decision Expected Soon

9:21am: The Orioles, Royals and Twins remain in the mix for Hunter, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). However, he too hears that the Rangers are making a push to sign Hunter. It’s perhaps worth noting that Hunter resides in Texas in the offseason.

9:08am: The Rangers have been making a push to sign free agent outfielder Torii Hunter, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (Twitter link). Olney tweeted yesterday that the Rangers were continuing their talks with the Reynolds Sports Management client, and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News wrote last night that the Rangers were aggressively pursuing Hunter.

The 39-year-old Hunter would presumably fill the space that has been vacated by Alex Rios and join an outfield mix that also features Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin. As Olney points out, Hunter’s right-handed bat would help to balance out a Rangers lineup that currently leans pretty heavily to the left side. Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Robinson Chirinos are the only projected regulars that bat from the right side. Andrus offers little in the way of power, and Chirinos has little track record as a 30-year-old with just one full season under his belt.

Hunter has been linked to a large number of teams, including the Orioles, Mariners, Royals and Twins of late. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that Hunter plans to make his decision soon, and Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets that Hunter’s preference is still to sign with a contender.



Mariners Still Seeking Right Fielder

Earlier today, news broke that the Mariners and Nelson Cruz had agreed to a four-year deal. While some assumed that he would serve in an outfield capacity, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that the M’s prefer to use Cruz in a DH role and will still seek a right fielder from outside the organization. According to Dutton, two possibilities are free agents Torii Hunter and Alex Rios.

Dutton also reports that the Mariners still have interest in acquiring Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, but those talks have stalled due to Los Angeles’ insistence that one of Taijuan Walker or James Paxton be included in the deal. Additionally, he adds, the Orioles have shown increased interest in Kemp, presenting Seattle with competition to acquire his services.

One player whose name has surfaced in trade speculation is right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, as many feel he could be a fit for the Red Sox in a potential swap for Yoenis Cespedes. However, ESPN’s Jayson Stark hears that Iwakuma is firmly unavailable, as the Mariners are looking to add to the club rather than subtract (Twitter link).

The Mariners feel they have the payroll flexibility to add Kemp (and thereby Hunter or Rios as well, of course) even after signing Cruz and working out a seven-year, $100MM extension for Kyle Seager. Kemp is owed $107MM over the next five seasons — a hefty investment for a power bat whose defensive skills appear to be diminishing as well.

Dutton’s report makes no mention of Justin Upton, although it would stand to reason that if Kemp is still in play, there would be continued interest in Upton as well, to whom the Mariners have been linked on multiple occasions. However, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweeted after Cruz’s agreement, the Braves “almost certainly” would ask for Walker in exchange for Upton, so Seattle’s interest there figures to be limited until the asking price changes.

Both Hunter and Rios would provide a veteran right-handed bat to bring further balance to a lineup that was extremely left-handed in 2014. Hunter has recently been said to be considering the Mariners as well as the Rangers, Orioles, Royals and, to a lesser extent, the Twins. Rios, meanwhile, has yet to see his name surface in too many rumors, perhaps due to a down season at the plate (.280/.311/.398). The Mariners were said to consider him a fallback option earlier this month. Should the Mariners think on a larger scale, Melky Cabrera remains a free agent, and the price for parting with him is now slightly diminished, as Seattle would only need part with its second pick after forfeiting the No. 19 pick to sign Cruz.

In addition to the names listed, the Mariners do have a fairly strong in-house candidate in the form of Michael Saunders. However, Saunders is a left-handed bat and his relationship with the organization was strained after some postseason comments from GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon. The Mariners were said to be shopping Saunders as recently as last month’s GM Meetings, and those talks could of course be revisited at next week’s Winter Meetings.


AL Central Rumors: Hunter, Royals, Samardzija

The latest from the AL Central..


Quick Hits: Hunter, Fowler, Bargains

Here’s the latest from around the league.


AL Central Links: Masterson, Ryan, LaRoche

Here’s the latest from around the AL Central…

  • The White Sox and Tigers have expressed interest in Justin Masterson, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, meaning that all five AL Central clubs have at least checked in on the free agent righty.  Outside of this division, Masterson’s long list of suitors also includes the Braves, Cubs, Red Sox, Giants and Marlins.
  • The Indians touched base with Masterson early in the offseason but “haven’t shown a lot of interest” since, Hoynes writes.
  • In an interview with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter links here), Twins GM Terry Ryan said his team “could use a right handed bat in the outfield. We’re rather young here especially in the outfield.”  Of course, the Twins have been connected to a right-handed hitting veteran in Torii Hunter, who recently said that he’d had numerous conversations with Ryan.  Minnesota is one of at least 10 teams who have shown interest in Hunter’s services this offseason.  Earlier today on MLBTR, Jeff Todd outlined Hunter’s free agent profile.
  • On the Twins‘ search for pitching, Ryan said that he’s looking for both left- and right-handed starters, noting that his club doesn’t have many proven innings-eaters in the rotation.  Relatively few free agent pitchers have come off the board this winter, though Ryan said “it may be a slow moving market and then one of those big time pitchers goes and all heck breaks loose.”
  • Adam LaRoche wasn’t keen to fully transition to a full-time DH role, yet he told reporters (including CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes) during his introductory White Sox press conference that he’s happy to cede most of the first base duties to Jose Abreu.  “They’ve got a kid [Abreu] that’s obviously going to be around and be really good for a long time,” LaRoche said.  “It’s not fair to make him a full-time DH this early in his career, especially when he can handle first base and handle the glove over there….I’ll do it however it plays out.  If they need me to play first more than we’re talking about, great, I’ll be there. If I end up DHing more, that’s fine.”  Sox manager Robin Ventura said that he plans to give LaRoche two starts per week at first base, a time-share that will hopefully keep both LaRoche and Abreu fresh for the entire season.

Free Agent Profile: Torii Hunter

At 39 years of age, Torii Hunter is no longer the player he once was. But his reliable bat and clubhouse presence are sure to lead to plenty of interest.

Pros/Strengths

As he has throughout his career, Hunter hit in 2014. His 111 OPS+ (.286/.319/.446) marked the ninth consecutive season in which he has been at least 10% above league average in overall batting production (per that metric). Since becoming a regular in 2001, Hunter has only once (barely) dropped below the mean.

MLB: ALDS-Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles-Workouts

Neither is there any particular reason to think that a cliff is nearing. Hunter’s walk rate has been down sharply in the last two seasons — around 4% after posting numbers that were as much as twice that rate in the not-so-distant past — but he has also driven down his strikeout rate to a career-low 15.2%. And the contact is still good: Hunter posted a personal second-best 21.3% line drive rate last year and put the ball on the ground right at his career average. Bat speed and reflexes do not appear to be a problem; pitchers threw Hunter fastballs 57.6% of the time last year, the lowest percentage of his career.

That remarkable consistency is equaled by Hunter’s durability. Since the start of the 2007 campaign, Hunter has seen just one DL stint (for five weeks owing to a groin strain back in 2009). He has had his share of rest in recent years, averaging 142 games played over the last three seasons, but has made at least 584 trips to the plate in each of those.

It might reasonably be expected that teams will look beyond the numbers in determining their interest level in Hunter. He has 18 MLB seasons under his belt, and is widely characterized as a desirable clubhouse leader.

Cons/Negatives

Defensively, Hunter had already regressed from a solid center fielder to a solid right fielder. But over the last two years, defensive metrics have soured considerably on his work in right. Defensive Runs Saved, which judged Hunter a +15 contributor in 2012, has moving to -10 and then -18 since. Ultimate Zone Rating noted a less pronounced fade in 2013, but concurred with DRS on Hunter’s overall value last year. The issue, per UZR’s assessment, is clear: while Hunter’s arm and error propensity are approximately average, his range has disappeared.

At the plate, one could quibble and note that Hunter’s output last year was at the bottom range of his career range. While it would be a stretch to say that portends a precipitous decline – after all, he was still produced within the bounds of his career norms and did so on a career-average BABIP – that fact does, perhaps, dampen the notion that he might return to his 2012 levels (.313/.365/.451, albeit on a .389 BABIP).

Likewise, Hunter’s counting stats are down from his peak. He is no longer a threat to steal twenty bags or to hit 25-30 home runs. On the other hand, the loss of speed is not surprising, and Hunter still grades out well on the bases. And as for power, Hunter’s decline has tracked a more general league trend, and he still put up a .160+ ISO over each of the last two years and has never hit less than 16 long balls in a full season.

Personal

Hunter was born and raised in Arkansas, going straight from Pine Bluff to the Minnesota Twins after he was chosen in the first round of the 1993 draft. He is one of only two players from the first round of that draft still active in the majors, the other being first overall pick Alex Rodriguez.

Hunter makes his offseason home in the Dallas-Forth Worth area with his wife, Katrina. As he told MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the Hunters are already empty-nesters. Several of his sons excel at sports as well, enrolling in colleges on football scholarships, and Hunter says that he enjoys traveling to watch them in action.

Market

While the Tigers are not interested in a reunion at this point, recent reports suggest that as many as ten teams have already shown interest in the Reynolds Sports Management client, including the Royals, Cubs, Giants, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Mariners.

Then, of course, there are the Twins, Hunter’s former club. The veteran says he has had several conversations with Minnesota GM Terry Ryan. He has also indicated that he wants a regular role on a legitimate contender, and it would be difficult to cast the Twins in that light. Either way, having already earned over $160MM during his outstanding career, he seems unlikely to view the highest bid as a trump to personal preference.

The corner outfield market contains several players in the same general market niche as Hunter, though each obviously has their benefits and drawbacks. With Michael Cuddyer going to the Mets, teams looking for veteran production down the lines can also look to Alex Rios and Michael Morse.

It bears noting that Hunter has almost exclusively played right field since he moved off of center. He has spent a mere 119 1/3 frames patrolling left, all before he became a fixture in the Twins’ lineup. With his range being the major question, and his arm still playing at the big league level, it seems likely that he will be targeted primarily by clubs having (or willing to make) an opening on that side. As the list of teams with apparent interest would indicate, Hunter’s most obvious fit is with an American League club that plans to utilize some manner of platoon situation for its designated hitter slot, as he could benefit from a reduced defensive load as he enters his age-39 season.

Expected Contract

Hunter should have several appealing situations to ponder. To some extent, of course, the breadth of interest relates to the fact that he figures to be available on a short-term deal at a palatable rate. For teams looking to lock in a decent level of production at the plate for the short term, while keeping future payroll flexibility, Hunter makes for a highly appealing option.

Multiple years are certainly within reach if Hunter is interested, though he may not be – and may see somewhat reduced interest and lower-AAV offers if he does pursue that route. Cuddyer’s two-year, $21MM deal sets the market at the corner, and carries an even higher implied valuation since it required the Mets to sacrifice the 15th overall pick in the upcoming draft. (Applying a 3x multiplier to the slot value of that pick last year results in a rough $7.5MM valuation of New York’s added cost. As discussed by Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, however, other means of estimation might put the value in the $10MM to $15MM range.)

Ultimately, assuming Hunter picks amongst the clubs pushing the top of his market, I think he will land a deal in the range of two years and $22MM. If he ultimately falls shy of that mark, it could well be because he prefers a one-year deal or takes a discount for one reason or another.


Reds Notes: Promotions, Free Agents, Frazier, Leake

Earlier this month, the Reds made their front office addition of Kevin Towers official, but that’s far from the only change they made. As MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports, the Reds have also promoted VP of baseball operations Dick Williams to VP/assistant general manager, giving him a larger role in the club’s decision-making process. Presumably, he’ll assume some of the responsibilities of well-regarded veteran AGM Bob Miller, who is now with the Nationals. Promoted to senior director positions were Nick Krall (baseball operations) and Sam Grossman (analytics). As for Towers’ official title, he will be a special assistant to GM Walt Jocketty, as will fellow new hire Jeff Schugel, who worked with Atlanta in a similar capacity last year.

Here are some more Reds notes…

  • In a second column, Sheldon examines some free agent outfield options that are on the Reds’ radar or at least should be, in his eyes. Sheldon lists Nori Aoki, Mike Morse, Torii Hunter, Colby Rasmus, Alex Rios and Chris Denorfia as potential fits, though he notes that sources have indicated to him there’s been no contact with Hunter or Denorfia to this point. Interest in Aoki and Morse has been confirmed by Jocketty, but it’s unclear whether the Reds have touched base with Rasmus or Rios.
  • John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer looks at how the Mariners’ reported extension of Kyle Seager has increased the price of a potential extension for Todd Frazier. Both third basemen are arbitration-eligible for the first time (or Seager was, prior to his extension, at least). Frazier is a year older than Seager but the two posted very similar batting lines in 2014, have good defensive marks and are comparable in terms of WAR. I’d think Frazier’s case is a bit weaker due to a less consistent offensive track record and the age difference, but the two are certainly comparable. Seager’s extension is said to be worth $100MM over seven seasons.
  • In this week’s edition of the MLBTR Podcast, site owner Tim Dierkes chatted with host Jeff Todd about speculation surrounding the Reds and Red Sox as trade partners. The Reds could theoretically benefit from Cespedes’ bat and have comparably priced pitchers to trade, leading some to wonder about a potential deal with Cespedes and Mat Latos. However, Tim posits that Mike Leake could be a safer option for the Red Sox as a centerpiece in a Cespedes trade, given his clean injury history. Leake’s taken a step forward over the past two seasons, pitching to a combined 3.54 ERA in 406 2/3 innings in Cincinnati’s very hitter-friendly stadium. Latos made just 16 starts and lost nearly two mph off his fastball. Tim and I have discussed this scenario as well. We both agree that Leake, who would hit the market at the young age of 28 next offseason, could net his 2015 club a draft pick assuming he isn’t traded midseason and is capable of turning in something in the vicinity of the 104 ERA+ he’s notched over the past two seasons.

Giants Casting Wide Net, Have Contacted Scherzer

After losing Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox, the Giants are casting a very wide net and have reached out to agent Scott Boras regarding top free Max Scherzer, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Giants appear to be scouring the trade and free agent markets for upgrades, as Heyman reports that they’ve at least initiated talks with free agents Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Chase Headley, Torii Hunter, Justin Masterson and of course Yasmany Tomas (their interest in Tomas has been well-documented). Beyond that, they’ve kicked the tires on Atlanta’s Justin Upton, and their interest in Jon Lester was reported yesterday as Sandoval looked to be on the verge of departure.

San Francisco’s interest in Scherzer isn’t terribly surprising. The team will bring back ace Madison Bumgarner and stable veteran Tim Hudson, but Matt Cain is returning from elbow surgery and Tim Lincecum‘s reliability has taken s nose-dive in recent years. Both Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy are free agents. Yusmeiro Petit was excellent in 2014 but totaled only 129 2/3 innings between the regular season and postseason. He’s certainly done enough to warrant a look in the rotation, but the lack of innings could be cause for concern.

In terms of their offensive targets, Heyman hears that the Giants are more likely to go with a cheaper option to replace Sandoval at third base, instead spending bigger on a replacement in left field for Mike Morse. He notes that they’ve taken a “close look” at Upton and have even reached out to former Giant Melky Cabrera, though one team source described Cabrera’s departure from the Giants as “awkward” to Heyman. (Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in 2012 to close out the season as the Giants pushed toward a World Series victory.)

Earlier today I looked at some post-Sandoval options for the Giants, listing several trade and free agent targets that the reigning World Series Champions could pursue.