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Torii Hunter Rumors
The Twins were eliminated from the playoffs earlier today, notes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (video). Heyman looked at possible offseason plans for the club. The lineup is youthful and includes top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and former top prospect Aaron Hicks. Eddie Rosario also had a strong season, and Max Kepler is waiting in the wings for an opportunity. The future may be bright, but experience is an issue. Minnesota may benefit from to re-signing Torii Hunter (more on that in a moment), but may need to look at him as a fourth outfielder.
Here’s more from Minnesota:
- Heyman also highlights the pitching staff as an area that needs improvement. The club will lose Mike Pelfrey to free agency, and he had a deceptively decent season. They’ll hope to get full, healthy seasons out of Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana next year. Another veteran in the Pelfrey mold could make sense. Personally, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them compete for a second tier starter like Mike Leake. The club could look at themselves as the 2016 version of the Cubs. The bullpen also needs work. Glen Perkins is a fine anchor, but he’s missed time at the end of the last two seasons with a neck issue.
- Hunter remains undecided about retiring, he tells reporters including Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (via Twitter). “This possibly could be my last game. And there’s a really good chance.” Betsy Halfand of MLB.com has more detail. Hunter says he would have announced his retirement months ago if the Twins had suffered through another futile. However, the possibility that they could return to the postseason next year has delayed his decision. He’ll likely wait until after the college football season (both of his sons play) before making an announcement.
- Hunter does say he’s not interested in a part time role, “Eighty one games? I’m not coming back for that.” If the Twins want to re-sign him, they may need to get creative with some of their younger players. The 40-year-old is coming off his first below average offensive campaign since 2003. He did manage to hit 22 home runs over 563 plate appearances. An unusually low .257 BABIP looks like the culprit behind his poor average and on base percentage.
- Reliever Neal Cotts “would love” to return to the Twins next season, writes Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. Cotts, 35, signed a one-year, $3MM contract with the Brewers last offseason. The Twins acquired him in mid-August. With Minnesota, he posted a decent 3.95 ERA with 5.93 K/9, and 2.63 BB/9 in 13 and 2/3 innings. Presumably, he would require a similar commitment to re-sign for 2016.
After the Indians traded several veterans at the July deadline, manager Terry Francona asked remaining team leaders like Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Jason Kipnis and Corey Kluber if they could draft a type of “accountability contract” for the rest of team, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian writes. “It’s just a matter of playing the game the right way,” Gomes said. “We’re building a culture and we’re building a way that we believe in. That’s pretty much all I can say.” After several weeks of finalizing the wording, the contract was passed out to Cleveland players this week and signed by the group. As Gomes put it, “I think we’re going to be here for a long time together. So, we figured, if we really put together something that us guys that will be here for a long time, something that we really believe in, and we truly live by it and we enforce it, then I think guys will come around and follow it. It was something we really wanted to put together.”
Here’s some more from around the AL Central…
- Johnny Cueto‘s recent struggles have “baseball people wondering again about the health of his elbow, among other issues,” Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Cueto was excellent over his first four starts since joining the Royals and then posted a 9.57 ERA over his next five outings before rebounding with a very solid outing (7 IP, two ER, eight hits, four K’s) on Friday against Detroit. He missed some time with elbow stiffness earlier this season while pitching for the Reds, though he didn’t go on the DL and the ailment ultimately didn’t hurt his trade value since Cueto returned and continued to pitch well. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently dropped Cueto to eighth in his 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings, so it’s looking like Cueto will need a strong finish in both the regular season and playoffs to regain some earning potential.
- The Twins wouldn’t engage in extension talks with Torii Hunter‘s representatives this summer, ESPN 1500’s Darren Wolfson reports (Twitter link). Nick Cafardo reported earlier today that the Twins indeed want Hunter to return for 2016, and since Hunter has himself said he’s taking his playing future on a year-to-year basis, it could simply be a case of the club waiting until the season and playoff race is over before getting into future contractual business. As Wolfson notes in a subtweeted response to his original message, Twins manager Paul Molitor particularly wants Hunter back.
- Brad Ausmus isn’t sure the Tigers made the right move in releasing Joba Chamberlain in July, he told reporters (including James Schmehl of MLive.com). Asked if he second-guessed the transaction, Ausmus admitted that, “Yeah. I did. Even at the time, I didn’t know if it was the best idea.” Chamberlain posted a 4.09 ERA over 22 innings for the Tigers (a number possibly inflated by BABIP and an ungainly home run rate) before moving on to minor league deals with Toronto and Kansas City and eventually returning to the bigs as a Royal. While Chamberlain’s numbers weren’t anything special, he still would’ve been an upgrade to a Detroit bullpen that has been one of the worst in the game this year.
Few expected the Twins to be in contention this season, yet after today’s 6-5 win over the Blue Jays, Minnesota (30-19) now owns the best record in the American League. The Twins have been boosted by a 20-7 record in May, the first time the club has won 20 games in a single month since June 1991. Here’s some more from the Gopher State, courtesy of 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson (all Twitter links)…
- There has been “no movement” between Torii Hunter and the Twins on a contract extension, though Wolfson guesses a deal will come at some point during the season. Hunter signed a one-year, $10.5MM deal with Minnesota last winter and has openly discussed both how he wants to eventually work in the Twins’ front office and how he’s undecided about playing in 2016. If performance is a factor, Hunter has been playing well, hitting .280/.332/.458 through his first 184 plate appearances. I would wonder if an extension would even be necessary this early, since as Wolfson notes, it’s “not like he’s going anywhere.”
- The Twins were one of the 20 teams who attended Cuban infielder/outfielder Yosvani Garcia‘s showcase earlier this week.
- Garcia isn’t subject to the international bonus pools, yet the Twins also have great interest in the 2015-16 international free agent market, as team VP of player personnel Mike Radcliff tells Wolfson that the new class of July 2 international players is “one of the best we’ve ever seen.” The Twins are prepared to spend up to $4MM on a single player, and Wolfson notes in a follow-up tweet that the player in question is Dominican shortstop Wander Javier. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel reported in March that the Twins and Javier are “widely believed” to already have an agreement in place once the signing period opens on July 2. The Twins’ international bonus pool is just over $3.948MM, so if they wanted multiple players, they would have to trade for some extra space (unless they were willing to overspend in this int’l class and be limited to $300K signings in the next two classes).
- Radcliff also said that Minnesota may sign fewer amateur draft picks than usual, as their “system is pretty full” of players already. As Wolfson notes, most teams generally sign around 25 of their 40 picks; for comparison’s sake, the Twins signed 30 of their 40 picks in the 2014 amateur draft.
Tigers right-hander Shane Greene tells Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees blog that it “felt like I got dumped” when the Yankees traded him in the three-team Didi Gregorius trade this season. Greene says he’s pitching with a chip on his shoulder this offseason as he looks to continue proving himself. Manager Joe Girardi tells Jennings that it was tough for the Yankees to part with a young starter like Greene, but they felt it was necessary to get a potential everyday shortstop in Gregorius. Greene adds that he entered the offseason knowing that his trade value was perhaps at its peak: “If they were going to make a move, I was probably going to be one of the pieces. … I know it’s a business. I’m not a complete idiot, so I knew if something was going to happen, my name would be at least talked about with the situation over there. I’m excited to be here, and that’s all that really matters.”
More from the AL Central to kick off Wednesday morning…
- Royals manager Ned Yost told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star that he’s not sure he’s ever seen a player undergo such a drastic turnaround in an offseason as the one Mike Moustakas seems to have gone through. The former No. 2 overall pick is hitting the ball the opposite way frequently, and he’s hitting left-handed pitching in this year’s small sample as well. Yost joked that after all the faith that the Royals organization has shown Moustakas, “It’s almost like you want to stand up on this table and scream, ‘I told you so!'” Moustakas has worked with hitting coach Dale Sveum to re-work his swing, and the results are apparent to him and his teammates. Eric Hosmer noted that he’s never seen Moustakas hit the ball to left field as often as he does now.
- Had the Royals successfully reeled in Torii Hunter as a free agent this offseason, they likely wouldn’t have signed Kendrys Morales, GM Dayton Moore told the Star’s Vahe Gregorian. Moore and his staff considered Morales the next-best free agent bat after Hunter signed, and though he had a dismal 2014 season, the Royals attributed it to not beginning his season until June 8 as he took a long route to circumventing draft pick compensation after turning down a qualifying offer. The Royals judged him based largely on his 2012-3 seasons, which looks to have paid off thus far. Morales is hitting .351/.413/.544 through 63 plate appearances.
- The Twins have once again constructed a pitching staff — specifically a bullpen — that cannot miss bats, and that deficiency is already costing them, writes Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Twins relievers faced 26 Royals batters over the past two games and combined to strike out just one hitter — an unthinkably low rate in today’s game of specialized bullpens. Twins relievers are averaging just 5.18 K/9, which is dead last in baseball and ranks nearly a full strikeout worse than the 29th-ranked D-Backs (6.08).
Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco did not travel with the team and instead remained in Cincinnati to undergo an MRI on his hip, tweets John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Catcher Kyle Skipworth will fill in for the time being, as he’s had his contract selected from Triple-A, the Reds announced. (A corresponding 40-man move will happen prior to tonight’s game.) The Reds entered the season with quite a few injury question marks, but Mesoraco was not thought to be one. Clearly, losing Mesoraco for any significant amount of time would be crushing for a Cincinnati team that many have already picked to struggle in the NL Central, though it’s too early to tell exactly how great the level of concern surrounding Mesoraco should be.
A few more notes from baseball’s Central divisions…
- Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards breaks down Raisel Iglesias‘ debut against the Cardinals yesterday, noting that while the start didn’t alleviate concerns about Iglesias’ ability to work deep into games, he showed enough to suggest that he can get big league hitters out on a consistent basis, even if it ultimately has to come in a relief role. With Homer Bailey nearing a return from the DL, the Reds will have to make a decision between Iglesias and veteran righty Jason Marquis. For the time being, that’s been solved by optioning Iglesias to Louisville, but Edwards wonders if it’d be a better decision to eventually let Iglesias develop at the highest level — a move that would seemingly force Marquis into the bullpen or off the Cincinnati roster.
- Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke to Pirates GM Neal Huntington about the decision to pursue a long-term contract with Josh Harrison. “When you believe in the person and you believe in the abilities of that person, and it aligns with where you want to go, you’re able to find the common ground, it makes all the sense in the world,” Huntington told Brink. As Brink points out, not all deals of this nature work out — he uses Jose Tabata as a particularly regrettable deal for the Pirates — but the cost certainty they provide is valuable. Brink notes that the Bucs will be on the hook for $42.25MM in 2017 — the last guaranteed year of the Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Liriano contracts — for the combined salaries of Harrison, McCutchen, Liriano and Starling Marte.
- Torii Hunter told reporters prior to today’s home opener that the Royals, Mariners, Rangers and Orioles were all interested in him before he made the decision to sign with the Twins, tweets the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Mike Berardino. The Royals, in particular, seemed to tantalize Hunter, per Berardino: “Those guys going to the World Series, that was very appealing,” Hunter added.
Torii Hunter spoke with Bob Nightengale of USA Today about his return to the Twins and an interesting aspiration that he has in his post-playing days. The 39-year-old Hunter would eventually like to not only work in the Twins’ front office, but take the reins as general manager of the team. “I really want to get into that front office, make some changes, and build a team that I want to build,” Hunter explained. “I’d love to learn everything from [Twins GM Terry Ryan]. He’ll be a mentor. One day, that’s my goal, to be GM of the Twins.” Nightengale spoke with Ryan about the idea and writes that Hunter “will have a door waiting for him,” though Nightengale writes that Ryan also advised Hunter not to rush any decisions about retirement. Hunter said he’s considered hanging it up next winter, though he very much sounds like a good year at the plate would leave him open to a return in Minnesota. “…unless I hit .300, then I’m going nowhere,” said Hunter, who has batted .301 over the past three seasons. Hunter also has interest in working in TV, he said, and he spoke with Nightengale at length about his prayers for friend Josh Hamilton.
A bit more from Nightengale’s piece and the AL Central…
- Nightengale reports that the Rangers made Hunter a one-year, $8MM offer to play near his Dallas home, and the division-rival Royals offered Hunter one year and $8.5MM with a player option. Hunter, however, ultimately decided he wanted to return to Minnesota, and Nightengale adds that Billy Butler‘s three-year, $30MM contract with Oakland “raised the stakes” for Hunter (presumably implying that Butler’s deal caused Hunter to aim for a higher annual value). Hunter said a 90-minute phone call with Ryan, in which the GM explained that he wants Hunter in Minnesota “forever,” impacted him a great deal as well.
- Tigers right-hander Joel Hanrahan is traveling to Texas to see Dr. Keith Meister about persistent elbow problems that have slowed his comeback attempt, writes MLive.com’s Chris Iott. Hanrahan, who hasn’t thrown since Feb. 22, tells Iott that he’s past the point of frustration and wants to get answers as to why his elbow still is not working properly. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press also spoke with Hanrahan, who told him that at times, it feels like bones in his arm are rubbing together, and at other times, like his biceps is being pinched (Twitter link). Hanrahan missed all of the 2014 season and most of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John and flexor tendon surgery.
- Mike Aviles‘ outgoing personality and vocal leadership abilities factored into the Indians‘ decision to exercise his $3.5MM option this offseason, writes Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com. Manager Terry Francona told Meisel: “We told him that in our one-on-one. That’s part of his responsibility. We love what he does as a player, because he plays all over the place and he can play every position professionally. But when he’s not playing, he needs to be in a leadership role. We need that out of him. He understands that.”
News broke earlier today that Victor Martinez will undergo knee surgery on Tuesday, and until the veteran slugger’s procedure is complete, the Tigers have no choice but to play the waiting game. “I don’t know what I need to fill [on the roster],” GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jason Beck). “We’re going to have to wait to do all of that until Tuesday.” If the best-case scenario of a four-to-six week absence is met, Detroit can rely on short-term fill-ins to take Martinez’s place. Mlive.com’s James Schmehl lists several internal options within the organization, and he also opines that free agents Dayan Viciedo and Chris Colabello could also fit as temporary replacements or bench depth.
Here’s some more from around the junior circuit…
- Wade Miley‘s three-year extension with the Red Sox has some positive luxury tax implications for the team, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes. By locking Miley up now, he’ll likely cost Boston less against the tax than he would’ve had he gone year-to-year in arbitration. These savings could help the Sox get under the $189MM luxury tax threshold next winter or in 2017.
- In an interview on the MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” show (hat tip to MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger), Torii Hunter said he wasn’t yet sure if 2015 will be his last season. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m just taking it one year at a time,” Hunter said. The 18-year veteran reportedly turned down some two-year offers before signing a one-year deal with the Twins in December.
- Mariners president Kevin Mather and GM Jack Zduriencik both attended a private workout for Cuban players Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez, though Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times “wouldn’t overthink” why the two front office figures were present. As Divish notes, Mather and Zduriencik were already in the Dominican Republic for organizational meetings, so while it’s usually rare to see upper management at workouts, it makes sense that the two would check in on the workout during their visit.
- The Blue Jays‘ focus on developing young starting pitching is the backbone of Alex Anthopoulos’ plan to make the club into a consistent contender, Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi writes. The Jays have built a very solid offensive core, but if the young arms fail to deliver, the team’s plans over the next few seasons become very uncertain.
- Astros owner Jim Crane likes his team’s offseason moves and tells MLB.com’s Richard Dean that GM Jeff Luhnow has more possible acquisitions in the works. “Jeff’s still working on a few — we’re looking for a couple more players [to see] if we can make a couple more key additions,” Crane said. “But we like the moves we’ve made, and I think the team’s going to be very exciting this year — a lot more competitive.”
Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony sat down for his yearly interview with Jesse Lund of SB Nation’s Twinkie Town, and the two discussed a number of topics, including the Twins’ offseason moves, the future of Torii Hunter in Minnesota, the 2015 rotation, the farm system in general and the timelines of vaunted prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. The whole interview — split into a Major League portion and a Minor League portion — while lengthy, is well worth the read for Twins fans (and baseball fans in general). Here are some highlights…
- Antony explains to Lund that the Twins are aware of Hunter’s defensive decline but still feel that he can be adequate in right field. The Twins valued Hunter’s bat and also his experience and vocal leadership style — something the front office feels the team has lacked in recent years. Hunter “doesn’t have any interest in playing anywhere else,” Antony adds, noting that while he’s on a one-year deal, Hunter could return for future seasons as long as he remains healthy and productive. I’d imagine that would eventually require a reduced role for Hunter, possibly as soon as next season.
- Left-hander Tommy Milone struggled greatly after being acquired from the A’s on July 31, but the reason for his troubles may very well have been a benign tumor that was discovered in his neck after the season. Antony tells Lund that the tumor “took a long time to discover” but has since been removed.
- Milone will be one of several starters battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, alongside Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Tim Stauffer and Mike Pelfrey. Antony discusses the Twins’ signing of Ervin Santana and how leaving just one spot in the rotation may block some useful players but creates much-needed depth. He also confirms that the Twins had interest in Santana on a multi-year deal late last offseason. “I think we actually kind of picked up our conversations. He had a little bit better idea of where his market was [this offseason],” Antony adds.
- Shortly before the Santana signing, the Twins “took a run at some relievers” that ultimately signed elsewhere, per Antony. Mike Berardino reported in December that the Twins made an offer to Jason Frasor, so he’s likely one of the names in question. As for the others, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek are possibilities, as they signed with Houston just one day before the Twins added Santana. David Robertson and Andrew Miller also signed in the week leading up to Minnesota’s addition of Santana, though it strikes me as unlikely that the team made a serious run at either.
- Asked about a previous report that the Twins thought they had a pair of trades agreed upon before the other party took a different offer at the last minute, Antony replied: “It wasn’t anything major, where we were on the cusp of doing anything big. We had conversations with a few different clubs, and they showed some interest in our players and we exchanged names and those types of things … it didn’t evolve.”
- It was Phil Hughes‘ camp who first approached the Twins about an extension, Antony says, and the team was immediately receptive to the idea. The Twins recognized how steeply the asking price would increase if Hughes repeated his 2014 season and was only a year from free agency and “took an opportunity.” Antony feels that with Hughes getting financial security and the team getting a potential building block for its rotation, the trade worked out for both parties.
- The Twins’ front office feels the team underachieved in 2014 and was capable of winning 76-77 games rather than the 70 with which they finished. As such, Antony said he’s hopeful of finishing near or above the .500 mark this season and believes the team should be fighting for a playoff spot come 2016.
- While Minnesota used to shy away from pitchers who were likely destined for the bullpen near the top of the draft, Antony says their philosophical outlook has changed. Players with plus velocity and a strong secondary pitch are typically off the board early, he notes, and the Twins loaded up on such arms this year, grabbing the likes of Nick Burdi, Michael Cederoth and Jake Reed.
- Both Sano and Buxton could be with the team in 2015, with Antony specifying a September callup as a possibility for Sano while speaking more generally about a possible Buxton promotion. Additionally, Antony didn’t rule out the possibility of highly regarded right-hander Jose Berrios making the 2015 club at some point.
- Asked about the reasoning behind signing Santana as opposed to waiting until next offseason when there is a stronger crop of free agent starters, Antony cited a desire to get better for the 2015 season and faith that some of the arms in the system could eventually develop into front-end types to pair with Santana and Hughes. Specifically, he mentioned Meyer: “[H]opefully Alex Meyer is a guy that, six/seven years from now, people are saying ‘Glad the Twins signed him long-term’ … and he becomes one of those guys.”
- The Twins are hopeful that Sano, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia will settle in as their 3-4-5 hitters of the future and don’t foresee adding any big-time power bats to the mix in the near term.
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.
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.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.