Twins, Torii Hunter agree to one-year deal
MINNEAPOLIS - Torii Hunter is coming home. Seeking to bolster their lineup and add veteran leadership to a mostly quiet clubhouse, the Twins surprised many in baseball Tuesday evening by agreeing to a one-year, $10.5 million contract with the fiv...
MINNEAPOLIS – Torii Hunter is coming home.
Seeking to bolster their lineup and add veteran leadership to a mostly quiet clubhouse, the Twins surprised many in baseball Tuesday evening by agreeing to a one-year, $10.5 million contract with the five-time All-Star outfielder.
“It’s just the right fit,” Hunter told the Pioneer Press by phone from his offseason home in Prosper, Texas, north of Dallas. “This is home. It’s time for me to come home to be fruitful and also to win.”
Hunter cautioned that the deal is not yet official and is contingent on him passing a physical. The nine-time Gold Glove Award winner is due in the Twin Cities today, but the 39-year-old has remained remarkably healthy even as the miles on his odometer have climbed.
Expected to play right field with Oswaldo Arcia moving over to left in 2015, the popular Hunter also drew solid interest from his hometown Texas Rangers. The Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants also had interest in Hunter, who spent the past two seasons with the Detroit Tigers, reaching the postseason both times.
Making the ninth postseason trip of his career in 2015 would seem to be a long shot, but Hunter’s deep roots with the Twins overruled his desire to hook on with an expected World Series contender.
“You talk about true love,” Hunter said. “I’ve got true love for Twins fans and that organization, (general manager) Terry Ryan.
Though his defensive metrics have slipped markedly over the past two seasons, Hunter keeps himself in great shape and Twins evaluators still believe he can handle himself well enough in right field. His effervescent personality and reputation as a competitor are viewed as strong bonuses as well for a team trying to stop a string of four straight seasons of 92 or more losses.
Newly hired manager Paul Molitor was a Twins bench coach under Tom Kelly when Hunter was first establishing himself with the Twins in 2000 and 2001. Newly hired bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, one of Hunter’s best friends in the game dating to those early days with the Twins, dined with Hunter multiple times in recent weeks as he tried to recruit him back to the Twin Cities.
“Welcome back to the Twins @toriihunter48!!!!!” Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks exclaimed on Twitter. “It will be an honor to play alongside my hero growing up.”
This will actually be the third-highest salary the Twins have paid Hunter in his career. He made $10.75 million with them in 2006 and $12 million the following season before leaving as a free agent. Hunter signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels in November 2007, and the Twins never came close to retaining him.
Another ex-Twins outfielder, Michael Cuddyer, jumped to the New York Mets earlier this offseason for $22 million over two years. Hunter’s deal with the Twins will match the average annual value Cuddyer, who turns 36 in March, received to pair up with boyhood friend David Wright.
Hunter indirectly replaces Josh Willingham in the Twins outfield. Willingham, traded to Kansas City in August as he finished out a three-year, $21 million deal, officially retired shortly before Thanksgiving.
The Twins also tried to turn back the clock last season with three offseason signings of Hunter’s former teammates: Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett and Matt Guerrier. Only Guerrier remained on the roster past early June, and he was released before August rolled around.
The difference with Hunter, the Twins hope, is that he has maintained his career standards of production at the plate.
“I would come over to win,” Hunter told the Pioneer Press on Nov. 22. “All that stuff everybody talks about – ‘A great guy in the clubhouse’ – that’s extra. That’s not No. 1. The No. 1 thing is look at my numbers. They’re still the same – one of the most consistent hitters in baseball over my career.”
With the Hunter signing, the Twins have seven players under contract for 2015 at $69.65 million. Six more players are eligible for salary arbitration at an estimated $13.4 million, bringing the combined total to just over $83 million.
Ryan continues to troll the free agent and trade waters for additional rotation help. Twins starting pitchers have finished with the majors’ worst earned run average in three of the past four seasons.
“These guys have all the tangibles, everything that you need to win,” Hunter said Tuesday. “I’m just a little piece of the puzzle.”
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