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SIR: Torii Hunter

Installment one of the Season In Review series will break down Torii Hunter.  Originally I was going to do this alphabetically, but since his option was picked up yesterday he's not only convenient, but now I can do it however the hell I want.

Games  AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB  Avg  Obp  Slg
 147  557 86 155 21  2 31  98 12 .278 .336 .490

AL CF Comparables
Team Name          Age   Avg   Obp   Slg   VORP

CLE  G. Sizemore    23  .290  .375  .533   69.8
TOR  V. Wells       27  .303  .357  .542   58.5
TEX  G. Matthews    31  .313  .371  .495   48.7
NYY  J. Damon       32  .285  .359  .482   41.0
TB   R. Baldelli    24  .302  .339  .533   33.8
MIN  T. Hunter      30  .278  .336  .490   32.5
BAL  C. Patterson   26  .276  .314  .443   23.7   Month-By-Month
DET  C. Granderson  25  .260  .335  .438   23.4   Month      AB  HR   Avg   Obp   Slg
LAA  C. Figgins     28  .267  .336  .376   14.0   April      90   5  .189  .240  .378
OAK  M. Kotsay      30  .275  .332  .386    8.9   May       107   4  .336  .402  .505
BOS  C. Crisp       26  .264  .317  .385    7.0   June       90   4  .256  .364  .422
KC   J. Gathright   25  .262  .332  .328   -1.7   July       42   2  .333  .404  .548
SEA  J. Reed        25  .217  .260  .377   -6.7   August    106   6  .255  .301  .491
CWS  B. Anderson    24  .225  .290  .359  -11.0   September 118   9  .314  .328  .576  

2006 Recap

After starting out with what can be described as nothing less than a disappointing April, the rest of the summer was typical Torii.  May and June saw him increase his patience at the plate, recording double digit free passes in both months.  Upon his return from the DL in July, Hunter picked up his offensive game significantly, particularly with his power, and helped propel the Twins to a division championship.

Hunter has always been noted for having hot streaks and cold streaks, and 2006 wasn't much different.  With the exception of April however, the colder streaks were kept to stretches of a few games instead of a couple weeks, and the end result was a second career-year at the plate.  Torii Hunter joined Justin Morneau as Minnesota's first 30-homer men since 1987.

In the field is where Hunter struggled this year.  Most of the spring saw Torii struggling to reach balls he could have caught in stride in the recent past, and things were even more disappointing upon his early return from the disabled list.  The aggravated injury saw Torii running on the heels of his feet, which not only slowed him down from reaction into gate, but also played havoc with his vision and therefore his hand-eye coordination.  Things were getting better by the end of the season, in spite of his failed dive attempt in Game 2 of the ALDS, but the injury from July 2005 was still clearly hamporing Hunter's game.

2007 Status:  Option picked up
2007 Salary:  $12,000,000

Offseason Outlook & 2007 Forecast

Aside from Brad Radke's impending retirement, Hunter's contract was the largest immediate issue facing the Twins this offseason.  The general consensus is that picking up Hunter's option, even at $12,000,000, is an acceptable decision.  Considering there wasn't an available replacement in house, and considering the options slated to be available on the free agent market, the Twins were limited in what they could do.  Either they could pick up Torii's option, or they could pay the $2.5 million buyout en route to a new long-term contract.  Paying the $2.5 million buyout to make Hunter a free agent wasn't going to happen; a long-term contract couldn't be completed within the 5-day period required after the Twins' season ended.

Even after picking up Hunter's 2007 option, Minnesota will still have $12-$15 million to spend on payroll for next year.  Much of this will be going to arbitration-eligible players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, but money will be available to fill out what few holes the Twins appear have this offseason.

The summer of 2007 will be Torii Hunter's age-31 campaign, even though he'll turn 32 in July.  While paying him $12,000,000 next year isn't the most ideal salary number, it does have one advantage for the Twins.  If they plan on bringing him back in 2008 and beyond, they'll be negotiating rights for a player who will be turning 33 in the first year of a new deal.  Considering the position Hunter plays, turning 33 signifies the beginning of typically declining physical years.  Signing Hunter to a multi-year deal beginning in 2008 may save the Twins a couple million dollars a year than if they had signed him to a multi-year deal this offseason.

Of course this assumes the Twins want Torii in 2008, that Torii still wants to be a Twin in 2008, that the Twins can offer a competetive contract compared to what will be the market for Torii in next year's offseason and that Hunter will be healthy this year.

If Hunter is healthy in 2007 (and actually healthy with a fully-healed ankle and foot), his defense should continue to be adequate with the occasional big defensive splash and display of athleticism.  While it's probably never going to be again what it was in the past, as long as his foot is fine he's still going to have good speed, a good arm and a fearless approach in the field.

Combining the possibility of a long-term deal after this season, and the statistical probability that Hunter's defense will drop off due to age, keeping Torii around post-2007/2008 implies a position change to left or right field.  This is still in the future and doesn't require our immediate attention, but it's definitely worth thinking about.  Will Torii accept a move to a corner outfield spot over the next 2 or 3 seasons?

Offensively, 2007 is probably going to be another Toriiesque season.  He's great at playing to his career averages, although if players like Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Castillo continue to perform and get on base, there's always the possibility that Hunter could throw up another 30 homers and get close to 100 RBI.

My hope is that somewhere along the line he takes more of a patient approach at the plate, like he did in May and June, because even though he tends to have less power during these periods it's probably going to help him extend his career.  But for 2007 I don't expect anything less than what Torii will always give you--aggressive plate appearances, speed on the basepaths, hot and cold streaks and flashes of brilliant power.

I love me some Torii Hunter.  I'm glad he's back.