And now to the baseball. Torii Hunter unexpectedly agreed to a deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last night, joining a ballclub that didn't seem to be in need of a center-fielder, what with Gary Matthews, Jr. patrolling the grounds. Of course, the fact that Matthews regressed severely last year probably has something to do with the decision to go after a player like Hunter, who is more consistently productive. Note to GM's -- stop offering players like Matthews huge contracts after career years! More often than not, a player like Matthews who had a career batting average under .260 before hitting .313 in 2006 is not going to repeat the performance!
Anyway, the Angels have now corrected the mistake in a big way by signing Hunter for 5 years and reportedly $90 million. For the math and/or calculator challenged, that would be an average of $18 million per season. While Torii leaving the Twins was certainly not an unexpected development, the fact that it finally happened drives home the point that the Twins are now desperately in need of a center fielder. What's a Twins fan to think about this development?
I've been championing Hunter's cause for quite awhile on this blog. Last winter, when quite a few others were screaming that the Twins should buy him out rather than pick up his option, I stated clearly that I thought such a course of action would be foolish. I've also said for most of this season that the Twins needed to find a way to bring Hunter back beyond 2007, because they had no alternatives to roam center field next year in his absence. All of this is still true -- and yet I find myself pleased that the Twins showed restraint on Hunter.
The fact is, the market for Hunter went higher than it probably should have. Hunter is a very good player, and was hugely important to the Twins. That merited over-paying him a bit, because the extra $1-2 million per season you'd pay in overpaying Hunter would be worth it to stay competitive. As a result, I thought the Twins should make an offer somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 years, $15-16 million per. We have no way of knowing whether Hunter would have accepted such an offer (the Twins reportedly never went above 3 years and $15 million per), but somehow I doubt it. He was consistently getting 5 year offers for more money per season (and reportedly had at least one 6 year offer out there). That, to me, is far beyond overpaying. The Twins could not compete in that realm, and there was no reason to try.
We can look back now and say that the Twins should have traded Hunter at the deadline -- and I also advocated that route, if the Twins didn't believe they could re-sign him. The Twins never committed fully to making a run at the playoffs or building for the future -- they kept Hunter and Silva, but traded Castillo (and Ortiz, but that really didn't affect anything). The failure to commit fully to either path was a mistake. To be fair, however, I don't know if the Twins knew the market on Hunter would go as high as it did, and they may have thought that a reasonable offer could keep Hunter in Minnesota. In other words, this wasn't quite as bad as the Nationals keeping Alfonso Soriano beyond the deadline in 2006, which was utter folly from the start -- he was never going to stay in Washington. Torii might have stayed in Minnesota.
Of course, while the Twins now have a gaping hole where they used to have a perennial Gold Glove center fielder, they also have a lot more free money -- over $12 million if you look at what they spent on Hunter in 2007, and over $15 million a year if you look at what it would have taken to re-sign Torii. That money should prove useful in paying players like Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer (at least one of whom will hopefully be locked up long-term this winter). The Twins also should be able to throw a little bit of money around on the free agent market -- although this market doesn't really fit the Twins well (the best players available are simply not coming to Minnesota).
Finally, I think Torii moving on means that the Twins have no choice but to make a serious run at trading Johan. As I've said before, the only way for the Twins to retool on offense and fill some holes is to trade Santana now, when he's at the height of his value. This article by Joe Christensen at the Strib points out the difficulties present in trying to trade Johan -- notably, his no-trade clause (and isn't about time that these stop being given out? They inevitably cause nothing but headaches -- look at the Kobe Bryant situation, where he's essentially in charge of the process) and the fact that any team trading for him would want assurances that they could keep him beyond 2008. Nonetheless, the Twins have to make an effort. Trading him really is the best option, provided they can get a solid return.
So there's my summation. Now -- go enjoy your turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole, and don't forget to watch the one good NFL game today (that'd be Lions-Packers, in case you weren't paying attention), and the great college football game tonight (Arizona State-USC).