Veteran reliever Tommy Hunter didn’t pitch after May 18 last season, spending the remainder of the 2021 campaign on the injured list — first with the Mets and then with the Rays, who acquired him as a financial counterweight in the trade that sent Rich Hill from Tampa Bay to New York.
Neither the Mets nor the Rays announced a formal diagnosis for Hunter beyond the Mets’ original indication that he was dealing with a lower back injury. As it turns out, Hunter missed the remainder of last season after undergoing back surgery, Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic reports (Twitter links). Furthermore, Ghiroli adds that Hunter is now healthy and recent held a bullpen session attended by scouts from upwards of a dozen teams, reaching the mid-90s with his heater during that showcase.
Hunter, 35, appeared in just four games with the Mets last season but was sharp in that brief time, logging eight shutout innings with a 6-to-3 K/BB ratio and an above-average 47.8% ground-ball rate. Solid work out of the ’pen is nothing new for Hunter, who since moving to the bullpen on a full-time basis in 2013, has compiled 402 innings of 3.18 ERA ball with a 20.7% strikeout rate, an outstanding 5.3% walk rate and a solid 45.9% grounder rate. He’s seen that strikeout rate jump in recent years (23.2% from 2017-21) without significantly increasing his walk rate (5.3%).
Unfortunately for Hunter, injuries are also nothing new for him. There’s little doubt that he’s a talented late-inning arm, but Hunter has dealt with back, forearm (twice), hamstring and calf strains dating back to 2017, and he missed a good portion of the 2016 season following sports hernia surgery as well. Since Opening Day 2016, he’s averaged just 32 innings per season (34 if you exclude the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, which skews the number a bit even though Hunter was healthy for it).
Hunter has pitched for seven big league teams and carries a career 3.21 ERA out of the bullpen. Given the lengthy layoff from pitching, he might require a minor league tune-up before he’s able to jump back onto a big league roster, but bullpen-hungry teams will surely be interested in taking a low-cost look at a pitcher with his track record if he’s indeed healthy now.