Torii Hunter Rumors

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.


Quick Hits: Upton, Montero, Rays, Hunter, Pirates

MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince names the ten players most likely to be traded this offseason and the Braves’ Justin Upton tops the list. Castrovince feels the Braves could obtain a similar, if not better, return than they received for Jason Heyward because Upton’s powerful bat has tremendous value.

Here are the latest notes from around baseball:

  • Miguel Montero placed tenth on Castrovince’s list and Buster Olney of ESPN.com (on Twitter) wonders if the hiring of Henry Blanco will create traction for the Cubs‘ interest in the Diamondbacks’ catcher, who was a Blanco pupil in 2014. The D’Backs have reportedly spoken with the Cubs, Dodgers, and White Sox about Montero.
  • With Jose Molina gone, the Rays are working to add a backup to Ryan Hanigan, either via trade or signing. They’d like a catcher with more experience than Curt Casali and, preferably, options, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
  • More from Topkin who reports, in addition to an expected trade of Matt Joyce and/or David DeJesus, the Rays may be looking to deal from depth in reserve infielders and relievers. He identifies Logan Forsythe and Sean Rodriguez as infield trade possibilities and Brandon Gomes as a bullpen arm who could be moved.
  • It may not be “sexy,” but the Red Sox‘s pursuit of Pablo Sandoval makes perfect sense, writes Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. The Red Sox appear to be one of the finalists for Sandoval, alongside the Padres and incumbent Giants.
  • Torii Hunter told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press he favors the Twins among the teams with which he is considering signing. “(Twins General Manager) Terry Ryan and I have talked several times, and there’s definitely a common interest there, for sure,” the veteran said. Ten teams reportedly have interest in Hunter.
  • The Pirates could re-allocate the resources set aside for Russell Martin to pursue rotation and bullpen help, a first baseman, and/or sign some of their young core to extensions, according to Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Central Notes: Swisher, Hunter, Reds, Blanco

Nick Swisher‘s contract with the Indians now fits on a long list of contracts teams would love to unload, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Swisher hasn’t been productive in his contract so far and he has two years and $30MM left, plus a vesting option for 2017. Pluto guesses that Swisher will end up back in Cleveland in 2015 despite recent trade rumors. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • GM Walt Jocketty says the Reds aren’t really close” on any significant moves, the Enquirer’s John Fay reports. Jocketty also would not confirm whether the club has interest in free agent outfielder Torii Hunter, the way he did with Nori Aoki and Michael Morse. “I don’t want to got into that,” says Jocketty. “When I talked about Aoki, I got hounded by the media. Let’s put this way: We’re talking to a lot of agents, and (Hunter) is a pretty good player.” The Blue Jays, Royals, Twins and other teams have recently been connected to Hunter.
  • The Cubs have hired Henry Blanco away from the Diamondbacks, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets. Blanco will serve as the quality assurance coach under new manager Joe Maddon. Blanco, of course, was a catcher for the Cubs from 2005 through 2008. He joined with the Diamondbacks after retiring as a player prior to the 2014 season.

Blue Jays Pursuing Torii Hunter

The Blue Jays are pursuing veteran outfielder Torii Hunter, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Toronto is “not especially confident” that it will bring back Melky Cabrera, says Rosenthal, and apparently sees Hunter as an alternative solution.

Of course, there are a number of teams said to have interest in Hunter, who has drawn strong demand in the early going. As of ten days ago, Hunter was said to have interest from as many as ten clubs. His most recent club, the Tigers, is not one of those, though the AL Central rival Royals and Twins are reportedly being aggressive in their pursuit.


Royals Notes: Butler, Rotation, Hunter, Peguero

The Royals have now officially waved goodbye to long-time DH Billy Butler, who signed a three-year pact with the A’s that was announced this morning. Kansas City had its chance to keep him, of course, but declined a $12.5MM club option on the right-handed hitter, preferring instead to pay him a $1MM buyout.

Here’s the latest out of Kansas City:

  • In a piece discussing the anticipated loss of Butler, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star indicates that the team remains intent on making impact additions to its roster, particularly to the rotation. The club has had at least opening discussions with agents for Ervin Santana, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Jason Hammel, and Jon Lester, writes McCullough.
  • Francisco Liriano is also a consideration for the Royals, as are many other arms in the mid-tier of free agents, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. And trade possibilities are also being explored. The team is still dabbling in the markets for Lester and Shields, Heyman notes, but seemingly has eyes for Liriano and Santana
  • Torii Hunter is a definite target, says Heyman. The team believes that he is still a reliable bat and sees him as a quality fit.
  • Kansas City is considering utilizing Carlos Peguero in a time-share in right field and at DH, tweets Jeffrey Flanagan of FOX Sports Kansas City. That plan would be particularly interesting if the team could pair the left-handed-hitting Peguero with a veteran right-handed bat of Hunter’s ilk.

Free Agent Notes: Kaneko, Shields, Gomes, Willingham, Hunter

Though not available to MLB clubs at present, righty Chihiro Kaneko could become a virtual free agent (in the same manner as Masahiro Tanaka last year) if he is posted by the Orix Buffaloes. The 31-year-old has signed on with agent Arn Tellem of Wasserman, according to a tweet from Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal.

  • While we wait to see whether Kaneko shakes up the market, let’s look at the latest of one top arm who is already free to sign with any club. The Marlins still have ongoing interest in James Shields, according to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Meanwhile, Rosenthal writes that the Diamondbacks at least like Shields, though it remains from clear that the club will be able to clear the salary it needs to make a legitimate run at him. As these reports would indicate, and Rosenthal notes, the market is quiet right now for the veteran righty.
  • The Cubs are among five teams to have shown legitimate interest in outfielder Jonny Gomes, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com (Twitter links). The right-handed-hitting Gomes, 33, will surely market himself as a bench or platoon bat in the corner outfield. Though he had a rather rough go of things in 2014, he still managed a .743 OPS against lefties.
  • Fellow lefty-masher Josh Willingham has yet to decide whether he’ll play, agent Matt Sosnick tells Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Willingham, 35, will surely be intrigued by the possibility of entering a market that just paid Michael Cuddyer $21MM over two years (along with the sacrifice of draft compensation).
  • As we continue ticking through the veteran outfielders, the Royals and Twins are the clubs most aggressively courting outfielder Torii Hunter, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. That comes as little surprise, as those AL Central rivals have long been said to be competitors for Hunter, whose market is now wide open with the Tigers saying they do not expect to bring him back.

AL Notes: Ryan, Hunter, Miller, Bonifacio, Front Office

Twins GM Terry Ryan is “doing well” after his bout with throat cancer, writes MLB.com’s Barry Bloom. The 61-year-old still is experiencing various forms of discomfort, but has completed radiation and is back at full force in the Minnesota front office.

Here’s more out of the American League:

  • The Tigers will not pursue Torii Hunter after inking Victor Martinez and trading for Anthony Gose, GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters today, including George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. “I called and said it just didn’t look like it was going to fit the way the club was getting put together,” Dombrowski said. “Thanked him for everything. Absolutely love him. If something changes where we make some changes for one reason or another, that we’re not anticipating, we would still be open. It’s just probably not much of a fit right now.” Hunter indicated in an Instagram post that he still intends to play in 2015.
  • The Blue Jays recently met with free agent lefty Andrew Miller, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. Miller figures to be a highly sought-after relief weapon. Toronto has definite pen needs, as Nicholson-Smith’s colleague, Shi Davidi, told me on this week’s podcast, and as MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk wrote in previewing the club’s offseason.
  • Free agent utility man Emilio Bonifacio is receiving interest from his former teams, including the Blue Jays and Royals, Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com tweets. (Cotillo also lists the Cubs as a team with possible interest.) Bonifacio should have his pick of situations given his versatility and place on the market.
  • The Red Sox have promoted Mike Rikard to become the team’s scouting director, according to a tweet from Clint Longenecker, formerly of Baseball America. He replaces Amiel Sawdaye, who will be promoted to a vice president role, according to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (via Twitter). Longenecker himself is moving on to join the Indians, Baseball America’s John Manuel tweets.