Friday, September 11, 2015

Torii's Sunset Ride Has Begun

In the middle of the cold Minnesota winter, Terry Ryan made his first splash during the hot stove period in inking fan-favorite Torii Hunter to a one-year $10.5 million contract. At the time of the signing, I hated the move. While the personnel that influenced parts of that opinion has changed drastically since, bringing Torii back for 2016 should be met with the same amount of distaste.

At 40 years old coming into 2015, expectations needed to be admittedly muted for the former Gold Glove award winner. No better a defender than the supplanted Oswaldo Arcia at this point in his career, Minnesota was paying a hefty chunk of change for a "leadership" characteristic. Whether that leadership has paid off or not is unquantifiable. In his first press conference, Torii got heated with local media. He then redeemed himself by rejuvenating a clubhouse with post-victory dance celebrations. There's been a bit of both, but it's been arguably more bad than good.

What Torii has given the Twins on the field is a whole different story however.

To date in 2015, Hunter has played 118 games, the lowest total since his age 33 season (119 for the Angels). He's slashed just .234/.290/.399 with 18 home runs (the most since 2011) and 64 RBI. Prior to the All Star Break, Hunter's .257/.312/.444 line with 14 HR and 49 RBI looked the part of a middle-aged, producer in the outfield. Then there came the decline. Since August 1st, Hunter has been given 25 starts, slashing just .165/.238/.275 and given the Twins just six extra base hits.

Offensively, it has been easy to see the stark contrast in Hunter's first and second half of his 2015 season. On the defensive side, things haven't been pretty either, but the performance (or lack thereof) has been a consistent negative. In 2015, Hunter has been worth -11 DRS (defensive runs saved) as well as a -1.7 UZ (ultimate zone rating), and -2.6 UZR/150. His four errors are the second highest total of his career, despite playing in the third lowest amount of games. To sum it up, the perceived defensive liability has been every bit as was imagined.

Coming into the 2015 season, Minnesota and Terry Ryan had a pass in the debatable move of Hunter's acquisition. Veteran leadership was no doubt a needed commodity, and the outfield had plenty of question marks on it's own. In 2016, Minnesota will still remain somewhat light on the veteran aspect of things, but the outfield is now a position of strength, sans Hunter.

There's no logical way for Hunter to expect the same kind of payday he received this season, but even at a massive discount, there's a bigger issue at play. Fangraphs quantifies Hunter's worth in 2015 at $700k (he's been worth just 0.1fWAR). While $700k is nothing in terms of a contract, the roster spot is worth so much more to the Twins. On a big league team with options, Hunter occupying one of them doesn't seem like a good decision.

A year from now, Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, and some combination of Max Kepler, Oswaldo Arcia, and Kennys Vargas will make up the outfield and designated hitter contingent for the Twins. With six of the 25 roster spots being spoken for with that grouping, adding Hunter to that equation seems like a tough ask. It's a tough decision for a team paying homage to a former great, but moving forward, it's an easy ask.

Hunter's 2015 struggles as the season comes to a close help to usher in the change. It doesn't need to be a solid boot out the door, but Hunter's sunset ride can continue to take place. 2015 has been a season of exceeded expectations, and while the veteran leadership portion has been of benefit, things begin and end there.

Someday Torii Hunter be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame, and maybe have his number retired. The post playing days beginning in 2016 will help to usher in that next phase. Hunter's performance has started the process, and the Twins must follow suit.

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