Good news, everyone but Peter Bourjos. According to recent reports, Torii Hunter and Jerry Dipoto have reached some sort of understanding that Hunter will be back with the Angels after this season. Nothing is official, obviously, but all you Torii lovers should rejoice. Me though, while I am a big fan of Hunter, will withhold my celebration until we find out exactly what kind of deal Hunter is going to get.
Call me pessimistic if you want, but when I think about Torii getting a new contract, I can't help but harken back to the end of the 2009 season when we were all begging Tony Reagins to "do the right thing" and reward then Bobby Abreu with a new contract after he had an age-defying season. One playing time dispute and a DFA later and I think we can all agree that we'd rather not see the Angels put themselves in the position to go through a similarly messy divorce with Hunter in 2015.
The Angels have a new GM in place, I'm assuming you noticed, so we can hope that he won't make the same mistake of giving Torii a third-year vesting option like his maligned predecessor Tony Reagins did to Abreu. That's pretty much the only simple part of figuring out Hunter's situation though.
On one hand, one would think the negotiations between Torii and the Halos would go smoothly since he has frequently professed his desire to stay in Anaheim (in between also letting it be known that there are several other teams that he "wouldn't mind" playing for either). On the other hand, Hunter has been very good this season, almost too good.
Before the season started, the Angels were careful to keep the door open to a new contract for Torii, but only they were also careful not to make themselves sound to eager. The assumption was that they would love to have Hunter back, but only at the right price. But even with Torii more or less volunteering to take a hometown discount, there is no guarantee he remains in the Angels price range.
The problem is Hunter has been too good, something I don't think anyone anticipated as a potential outcome to this season. With a fWAR value of 4.3 and rWAR value of 4.8, the approximate valuation of $5 million per WAR win suggests that Torii should be set to receive a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million for 2013. That's obviously preposterous given his age and performance the two years prior to this season, but it shows you just how far down Hunter will have to come to "meet the Angels halfway."
Even if you look at those two previous seasons, Hunter still deserves a substantial payday, somewhere in the $10-15 million range. Again, you'd be hard-pressed to find a team willing to pay a guy headed into his age 37 season that much money, but we are at least getting close. Using that nasty old Abreu deal as a jumping point, a $9 million salary seems pretty reasonable. If anything, the Angels might be able to talk him down even further since Hunter is a year old than Abreu was at the time he got his contract and also has a much longer history with the Angels. Factor that in and maybe the can talk Hunter down to as low as $7 million per year for the next two seasons.
Ah, but therein lies the rub. $7 million is quite the steal if Torii can give them even 85% of what he is giving the Halos this season. It is such a steal that some other team might try and swoop in and steal him from under Dipoto's nose. Not only is Hunter still very productive, but his leadership skills add a premium to his value, or at least it could in the eyes of a young team with money to burn hoping to make the leap into contention hoping Torii's mentorship can give them that extra boost to get over the hump. That is a very easy situation to envision, so it might behoove the Angels to offer Hunter a little extra, say between $8 million and $9 million, to get him locked up before he hits the open market where the fabled mystery team can start wooing Hunter.
So there is the fair value for Hunter, roughly $8 million per year for two years. But we aren't done yet. Just because it is fair doesn't mean the Angels should do it. While the front office appears to want him back, that doesn't mean it is the smart thing to do considering the money involved. The Angels are already committed to $92.3 million for 2013 and that is before they decide whether or not they pick up the options on Dan Haren or Ervin Santana and before they resolve any of their arbitration cases. Doing the quick math, you can get to $115 million awfully fast which gives them between $30 million and $40 million to spend on hopefully re-signing Zack Greinke, overhauling the bullpen and re-signing or replacing Chris Iannetta. So is it worth it to blow a quarter of that budget on an outfielder in his late thirties even though they have Peter Bourjos waiting in the wings to take his place? Well, that's a whole different article for a different time, but suffice it to say that it isn't an easy decision. At a minimum, it is hard enough to at least make Jerry Dipoto think long and hard about whether or not he should make good on his handshake promise to work something out with Hunter.
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Bourjos waiting in the wings is a reason why Torii should be resigned. he's a typical high speed, good glove, no average or prudction outfielder Scioscia loves. I agree that age is a huge factor, but Torii brings so many intangibles to the team (Note that during the team's late rush, he batted cleanup.) What do you do and how does that translate that into what you pay him. I was thinking...prior to September, that You give him for or five million dollars for maybe two years and that would be it. With his production near the end of the season, though, I thought, maybe you give him $6 or 7 million for 2 years. Then I heard that the deal was looking like 2 years, $17 million. Now, I've read it's looking like 2 years at $22! The Angels can't afford to lose his production...especially if Bourjos is the option. Even a decline in his numbers, Torii still out produces Peter...Swallow hard, give him $17 million for 2 years and understandhe's been much more to the franchise in terms of publicity and merchandise sales than Abreauhever was , so you've mitigated your risk.
I hate to be a negative Nellie, but I don't think Hunter comes back next year. Other teams will see his shiny .300 plus BA, his superb defense in right, and his "intangibles" and come close to offering him the "Abreu special," a two year deal with a vesting option for a third year. I can easily see Texas letting Josh Hamilton walk, signing Torii to play right, moving Nelson Cruz to left, and making do with a Gentry / Martin platoon in center. Torii will hit .300 again in that ballpark, feel even more rejuvenated playing in his backyard, and Napolize us up the rear with regularity. I'm just hoping that we return the favor somewhat by signing Koji Uehara (who will most likely become a free agent, the option is his) who should help firm up the soft underbelly of our team.