MARCH 30: The Mets have re-signed Hunter to another minor-league deal, reports Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter link).
MARCH 25: The Mets announced Thursday that veteran reliever Tommy Hunter has been released. Newsday’s Tim Healey tweets that the right-hander had an opt-out clause in his contract today. Hunter will head back to the open market in search of a spot with a club that has a clearer path to the big leagues.
Hunter, 34, has been a rock-solid reliever for the past eight seasons but has battled injuries in recent years with the Phillies. A hamstring strain limited his time with the Phils in 2018, and a forearm strain wiped out nearly his entire 2019 season. He returned to the Phils on a low-cost, one-year deal last winter and performed fairly well, logging a 4.01 ERA and 3.57 SIERA with strong strikeout and walk percentages (24.5 and 5.9, respectively).
Dating back to the 2013 season, Hunter carries a 3.24 ERA/3.40 SIERA in 394 innings of bullpen work. He’s had excellent control throughout his career, but Hunter’s once-pedestrian strikeout rates have ticked upward in recent seasons. After punching out just 19 percent of his opponents from 2013-16, he’s fanned batters at a 23.5 percent clip from 2017-20.
Hunter’s sinker, which averaged 96.3 mph as recently as 2017 with the Rays, clocked in at a much more timid average of 92.7 mph with the Phillies this past season, so there’s perhaps some moderate cause for concern. But he still proved effective with that reduced velocity, perhaps in part due to a big jump in his curveball usage. His swinging-strike rate (10 percent) and opponents’ chase rate (34.8 percent) were both within striking distance of the levels he’d set in previous seasons as well, so it doesn’t seem as though the lost life on his sinker was a substantial detriment.
Hunter has pitched in five games this spring, allowing three runs on four hits and four walks with three punchouts through five innings of work. It’s not the most impressive body of work, but it is of course a rather small sample. The more important note for clubs seeking some veteran bullpen depth will be that Hunter has been getting in regular work this spring and should be largely built up for Opening Day readiness.