The Torii Hunter Homecoming Dance looks to be permanently closed for the Minnesota Twins.
Per Mike Bernadino from the Pioneer Press:
At 39 years old, Hunter has probably one last chance to win a championship and does not appear to be interested in any sort of rebuilding project. Hunter has clearly lost a step (or two) in the field, but still could be utilized by a team on the cusp of winning a World Series. He still has a little pop in his bat (.765 OPS in 2014), and his fielding, while diminished, could still be suitable for a team with a need in right field. While he easily could have signed a contract to the highest bidder, it appears that his motivation for 2015 is a ring and not a paycheck.
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For the Twins, this report may sound like bad news but could actually be the best news for them. Simply put, there was no logical spot on the roster for the Twins who are in a full-fledged youth movement for 2015. The Twins’ primary need (outside of pitching) is in left field, a position that Hunter can no longer fulfill on a day-to-day basis. With slow, aging Josh Willingham playing the position, the team ranked near the bottom in all defensive categories for outfielders in 2013 and 2014. With Oswaldo Arcia penciled in at right field and Kennys Vargas set to be the full-time designated hitter, manager Paul Molitor would be forced to pull those up-and-coming talents out of the lineup for a lesser player in Hunter who does not figure into the team’s long-term plans.
Look, I understand the team’s interest in Hunter. The idea of bringing back one of the most popular Twins from their rising from the ashes in the early 2000’s had merit. He could provide a veteran presence in the locker room and would be a popular player once again with Minnesota fans (read: merchandise sales). For a team without a glut of stars, a signing like this would provide a spark of excitement for a fanbase who are far too used to long winters of inactivity from their favorite baseball squad. There were a lot of reasons to like Hunter in a Twins uniform in 2015.
But besides the on-field problems signing Hunter that would arise, there issues with a signing like this:
- First of all, Hunter has never provided a steady veteran presence before. Often combative, he has been involved in multiple alleged (and not so alleged) physical confrontations in the locker room.
- Questions about his willingness to take a back-seat to younger players in regards to playing time would arise, especially during a season when the Twins are not expected to contend.
- While many recall Hunter’s first go-around with the Twins fondly, there is a large contingent who are still upset about him leaving at the height of the Twins’ success during the 2000’s for a paycheck, no matter how large that paycheck was.
- Speaking of paychecks, signing Hunter would not come cheaply. With major holes in the pitching rotation and bullpen as well as left field, the penny-pinching Twins would do well to spend their limited funds elsewhere.
- But finally, the simple fact is that signings like these almost never work out. Twins fans need to look no further than last year’s attempt at such a reunion with Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett, and Matt Guerrier to know that sometimes you just can’t go home again.
While many will be saddened that Hunter has reportedly ruled the Twins out, in the big picture he has saved the Twins from themselves.
Until next time…
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