Scouting The Free Agent Market: Torii Hunter

What Went Wrong: Russell Martin's first 100 games
What Went Right: Russell Martin's final 62 games
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The Yankees have a number of holes to fill this offseason, perhaps none bigger on the position player side than right field. Nick Swisher was incredibly productive there both in 2012 (128 wRC+) and throughout his four years in New York (also 128 wRC+), but he will almost certainly head elsewhere as the free agent this winter. Outside of dropping nine-figures on Josh Hamilton, it’s tough to see how the Bombers won’t downgrade at the position this offseason.

Even before free agency officially opened for business, we heard that the Yankees had some interest in Torii Hunter. It’s unclear if they’ve spoken to his agent already, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they hadn’t at this stage of the offseason. With the 2014 payroll plan looming and no obvious long-term solutions available, it makes sense that they would target a veteran who is likely to sign a one-year contract. It also makes sense that they would target a right-handed hitter since both Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson swing it from the left side of the dish. Let’s breakdown the long-time Twin and Angel…

The Pros

  • It’s been nine years since Hunter was a below-average hitter and seven years since he was less than 10% better than the league average. His .313/.365/.451 batting line in 2012 was good for a 130 wRC+, and he hit .340/.403/.465 against left-handers. Over the last three years it’s a .292/.371/.469 line against southpaws.
  • Although most of his power is to the pull side, Hunter is an all-fields hitter — here’s his spray chart from 2012 as well as 2010-2012. His 191 wRC+ to the opposite field ranked fourth among all right-handed hitters in 2012, trailing only Mike Morse, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Cabrera.
  • Hunter was never as amazing defensively as he was made out to be, but he was always above-average and the move to right field has helped him remain that way later in his career. He’s a very smart and instinctive defensive player who, for the most part, is fundamentally sound (throws to the correct base, etc.).
  • His durability is a plus, as Hunter has played at least 140 games in each of the last three years and in six of the last seven years. He hasn’t come to the plate fewer than 500 times since 2005.
  • The Yankees value strong makeup and character, and Hunter is extremely well-respected throughout the game. He also has plenty of postseason experience, though almost all of it involves series losses to New York.
  • The Angels did not make Hunter a qualifying offer, so he won’t require any kind of draft pick compensation to sign.

The Cons

  • At age 37, Hunter just had the best offseason of his career thanks to absurdly high .389 BABIP that is far out of line with his career average (.307). Hitting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols would lead you believe he saw more fastballs in 2012, possibly explaining the increased production, but PitchFX disproves that theory — Hunter saw 65.6% fastballs in 2012 after seeing 64.4% from 2010-2011. Negligible difference.
  • Although he fared well against righties this year (.303/.351/.446), Hunter has had a a pretty sizable platoon split over the last three years. He’s put a .282/.343/.439 line against righties since 2010, but it was .271/.339/.436 from 2010-2011. That’s solid, but he’s not as productive against same-side pitchers.
  • Hunter hit the ball on the ground more than any other point his career this season (52.0%), which is not uncommon for older players. He dipped below 20 homers (he hit 16) for the first time since 2000, not counting his injury-shortened 2005 campaign. He’s always been double play prone as well.
  • Hunter’s strikeout rate (22.8%) this year was the worst full-season mark of his career, and his walk rate (6.5%) was his lowest since 2007. Coincidentally enough, that was his last walk year. Both rates were worst than the league average.
  • Keith Law recently wrote that Hunter has been “losing bat speed for the past few years and compensated this season by being much more aggressive earlier in the count,” and the data backs it up. His 3.57 pitches per plate appearance in 2012 was (by far) his lowest in the last four seasons, hence the low walk rate.
  • This isn’t a huge deal, but Hunter isn’t all that fast despite this year’s 9-for-10 in stolen base attempts. He was 14-for-33 in the two years prior to that, and he’s taken the extra base 47% of the time since 2010. That’s above-average but nothing special in the grand scheme of things.

Earlier this year, Hunter said the only teams he would consider playing for are the Angels and Dodgers (to stay in Southern California), the Rangers (he lives in the Dallas suburbs), or the Yankees. All four are contenders (at least in theory) but the Yankees are at the geographical disadvantage. The Bombers have had some success getting guys to come out of their comfort zone in recent years though (specifically Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, and Lance Berkman), thanks in part to their veteran clubhouse. I don’t think selling Hunter on New York would be that big of the deal as long as the contract offer is reasonable.

Anyway, any team considering Hunter has to understand that he’s very unlikely to repeat his 2012 performance. There are a lot of red flags there with his average on balls in play and increased ground ball rate, plus his age in general makes him a decline risk. A return to his 2011 level of performance — .262/.336/.429 OBP and 114 wRC+, which was his worst season of the last four years — seems like a more realistic expectation, and that’s still enough to make him an above-average corner outfielder as long as his defense skills don’t completely vanish. Hunter won’t add the kind of contact skills I’ve been talking about for the last few weeks, though that’s hardly any kind of mandate.

The Angels offered Hunter a one-year deal with a massive pay cut from his $18M salary, though the outfielder is reportedly seeking a two-year deal. That’s not terribly surprising, everyone wants multiple years. I don’t think a one-year deal in the $4-5M range is realistic at all and frankly it shouldn’t be. Hunter is a better player than that. A one-year deal worth $10-12M might be more in line with the market, and really it’s just the one-year part that is important to the Yankees. I doubt they want to sign a 38-year-old to a two-year deal with the 2014 payroll plan looming. Either way, it’ll be tough to find a more productive outfielder than Hunter on a one-year contract this offseason.

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What Went Wrong: Russell Martin's first 100 games
What Went Right: Russell Martin's final 62 games
  • Dr. Vinny Boombatz

    1 yr 8-10m period…nothing longer or more. This means more holes to file in 2014…no-one can be sure of that FA class…but the $189m rule seems to be the primary concern right now.

  • Mark L.

    How about Michael Cuddyer as a Plan B? Similar skillset to Hunter, and I doubt the Rockies will ask for anything too exorbitant. Ryan Ludwick would be a very distant Plan C.

    • Kosmo

      Cuddyer has 21 million remaining over 2 years. Would NY want to take on his contract ? I don´t think so. Ludwick is like you say a very distant plan. Don´t see NY involved.

  • stu phillips

    No big plaayers no attendance.

  • Chuck

    Ichiro! He came and he played well. What more do you want.

    • jjyank

      A larger sample size.

      • Chuck

        Better sample size than what we have of hunter playing for the Yankees. I just like ichiro it’s a tough call. I do think he’s as good as he was on the yanks this year. Playing for nothing in Seattle has to suck.

        • jjyank

          There’s a better sample size of Hunter being a good baseball player recently.

          • Matt

            I wouldn’t mind Ichiro just because he’d probably come cheap. I’d definitely kick the tires around on Hunter first.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Some actual power from our right fielder every now and then?

      • Chuck

        That’s what granderson is for… He will be in right or left. I can’t convince anybody but really think ichiro is worth another year. Especially if torrie hunter is our upgrade.. I just think ichiro vs hunter isn’t gonna determine whether 2013 is a success.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I love the argument that moving guys around the outfield somehow makes things better offensively. I think my fifteen month-old could poke a hole in that.

          “Da cornah outfieldahs not given ya enuff powah? Den move Grandahsun ta right….”

          • gc

            Your fifteen month old is named Mike Francesa???

            • Robinson Tilapia

              I’ve received referrals from the child welfare system for less than that.

          • Chuck

            I was just teasing yea. But yea man ten additional home runs really validate signing someone for two years. Who isn’t as good as a fielder and will probably cost more money.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Gotcha. I’ve actually read people seriously making that argument, though, so please forgive me if I thought you were being serious.

              I don’t think Torii’s the perfect answer. I think it’s a better answer, though.

        • Steve (different one)

          I would sign both of them. Hunter, Granderson, Gardner, and Ichiro is a very solid OF crew.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I’m not opposed to that idea.

            • Cris Pengiucci

              The probllem there is that Hunter becomes, almost immediately, a platoon player, and on the short end of it. As he’ll be the higher priced of the 2 (he and Ichiro), I don’t see the Yankees doing it or him accepting that role.

              • Need Pitching & Hitting

                Not necessarily, but it would depend on how often ARod and Jeter need to DH.
                They could use one of the 4 OF’s (Granderson?) as the primary DH against RHP, and Jeter/ARod as DH against LHP, with one of the lefty OF’s sitting. Hunter could also sit occasionally against a tough RHP to allow Jeter/ARod additional DH days.

          • jjyank

            Sure. Both would be nice. But I really hate the idea that “Ichiro was good for 6 weeks with the Yankees, therefore that is what we will see in 2013″. I’d put money on Hunter out playing Ichiro in 2013.

  • MannyGeee

    I’m feeling Hunter at 1/10M… Could do worse.

    • Kosmo

      unless NY pulls off an unforeseen trade for OF talent I could see Hunter getting a 2-year deal for 18 million.

      • G

        I’d prefer a 1 year deal, but we could do worse than filling RF in 2014 for $9M I guess.

      • Ted Nelson

        It’s possible, but I would bet against them signing Hunter for two years. He’s already showing signs of declining and almost 40

  • RetroRob

    There’s a lot more money available for MLB teams to spend; there is now basically a salary cap in the game (it’s flexible, but it’s a cap) putting more of a drag on the high-spending teams, which will encourge the rest of the teams to spend; and there is one additional Wild Card, which will drive up the value of a win to mariginal teams.

    In other words, MLB player salarie are about to spike again. Hunter wil get more than $10M for the upcoming season.

    • MannyGeee

      This assumes that MLB teams spend money like NBA or NFL teams.

      Just because there is “more money to spend” does not mean that the Royals/Pirates/Rays/Astros/Padres are all jumping to $150M payrolls all of the sudden.

      spenders will always spend, pinchers will always pinch.

      • vin

        They won’t start spending 150mil, but they’ll have more resources and pressure (ie extra WC) to raise payroll.

        Generally agree with RetroRob. The average salaries will spike, but I think the luxury tax will “suppress” the highest-end salaries. Remember, ARod got 10/250 TWELVE years ago. I think the spike has already happened, and we’re on our way to the average guys getting paid disproportionally more than the upper end guys.

    • Ted Nelson

      There is not a cap. You can spend what you’d like, you just have to pay extra. And… it literally impacts one team.

      If there were, in fact, a cap… it would limit player salaries all else equal.

      • Ted Nelson

        And on top of that, Hunter is severely limiting the demand for his services. He’s said he’ll only sign with 4 teams. One of those teams has already made him a small 1 year offer: Angels. One will mostly likely not bid: Dodgers. One probably won’t bid: Rangers (already have Cruz). If Hunter were willing to play the Pirates and Indians against the Yankees… sure, I could see two or maybe somehow 3 years. He’s indicated that he’s not willing to do that. He can hint at retirement if he can’t get his $, but RF is one of the easiest positions to fill. The Yankees can call his bluff.

  • hmelawyer

    In addition to normal needs of offensive production, my key requirement for our next rightfielder is to agree to the following mandate: “Thou shalt not roll like a doofus when you are unable to make a play in a key situation (laying out or pulling up is required).”

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’m not jumping for joy at the thought of someone on the wrong side of thirty…..five as the potential Swish replacement but, again, if this is about getting solid production in the short-term while the team figures out whether a guy like an Austin or Williams will be able to take that next step, then it’s a good solution.

    I’m not opposed to two years. He could always transition into a platoon or backup role in 2014 if either someone else emerges, or the team finds a better answer.

    • Steve (different one)

      Agreed. The way I look at it: gotta get older to get younger. Keep the seat warm and promote a kid in 2014.

      I find it interesting that so many want to make a trade for someone like Upton. This would be almost an exact repeat of the Granderson trade, if we assume (and we should) that it would cost at least 1 (more likely 2) of our stud prospects. Now, I thought the Granderson trade was a sound one, so I am not opposed to this idea, but it seems like now that we are at the tail end of the bargain contract we traded for, and Jackson is entering his prime, the sentiment is that this was a terrible trade. I disagree, but find it interesting that many now want to do the exact same thing again because they can’t bear the idea of a non-star player in RF next year. If you want to really get younger, then you go with Hunter or Ichiro and you have to live with Heathcott or Austin’s growing pains in 2014-5. Everyone forgets AJax hit .249/.317/.374 last year.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Know what’s funny about your comment? I haven’t stopped to consider that Slade Heathcott could finally emerge in the next couple of years as well. If he could stay healthy, and continues to show what he’s been showing as he moves up, how badass would that be?

        #chubby

  • Kingslayer

    Let’s not insult the intellegence of Yankee fans. At the end of the day, his overall performance was a bust!! Unfortunately, Yanks have no choice but to keep the bum.

    • MannyGeee

      Reply fail? I would assume this was meant to be under numerous Russell Martin/A-Rod/Granderson threads.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I wish we could have a window in order to see the moment when this guy realized he was commenting on Torii Hunter.

  • Eddard

    From left to right- Ichy, Gardy, Torii. Best defensive outfield in the game. And they’re contact hitters which we desperately need to balance out the strike out power hitters. This would be a great signing for the Yanks.

    • Preston

      You must have missed the part where Mike pointed out that Hunter struck out in 22% of the time. So not a contact hitter, and obviously you keep operating under the delusion that Granderson isn’t going to be here.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    I’m still pissed at Swisher, but, out of curiousity, what would he need a year? If its going to cost $12 to get Hunter…

    • MannyGeee

      5/85 is a valid number for someone of his caliber…. not that I would suggest it.

      • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

        holy shit. nevermind. sorry.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Also, it’s the 20th anniversary of the release of “Little Earthquakes,” which makes it more fitting that the Yankees bring Tori into the fold. Oh, wait….

  • Preston

    This makes a lot of sense, but for some reason I just don’t love the idea of Hunter in RF for us…

  • Bavarian Yankee

    I think the best case scenario for the Yankees would be to sign both Ichiro and Hunter to 1-year deals.

  • JobaWockeeZ

    So if we get a bunch of one year deals do I dare say it’s a bridge year?

    • Mike Myers

      Nope. Still a playoff team. The sox and Os will be worse next year. Tampa is losing more than gaining, and toronto isnt playoff ready.

  • LarryM., Fl.

    I think Hunter would be a good sign for one year even if its at Swisher’s qualifying offer. But before ponying up to the table with Hunter I’d explore trades and other FA’s.

    In response to hmelawyer I can remember years ago in HS and college the coaches always reminding the players stay on your feet be in control of your balance. Today’s modern athlete seemes to ignore this fundamental. Swisher is a good guy and I wish him well, somewhere else. Its time.

  • Barbara Booey

    Torii Hunter is grossly overrated.

    He hit 16 HR last year, in what is being called a very productive season. We don’t need yet another aging middle-of-the order type. And who cares about Torii’s “make-up”? I don’t want yet another player who provides meaningless post-game interviews with a nice sunny disposition. I’ve had enough of Curtis Granderson’s empty interviews with that amazonian YES network infobabe (Meredith Marakowitz).

    It’s like watching Obama being interviewed on The View. “Oh yeah, it’s our 8th loss in the past 10 games, but we’re really making progress and going out there every day and continuing to grind out at bats, that’s the game of baseball, you win some and lose some, we’ll come out tomorrow and battle once again, things are looking better…”

    We need guys like Gary Sheffield, some angry SOBs who don’t take any heat from the umps, their managers, or anyone. We’ve gotten too many overpaid and complacent losers already. Torii Hunter would just be another one for the list. Plus, he wore braces up until a couple years ago, just like Girardi. If you have been making millions of dollars and never managed to fix your teeth until now, forget it. Go somewhere else.

    PS: Ichiro would hit just about the same amount of HR in a full season of playing every day. He’d also provide a presence near the top of the line-up. While he isn’t an angry SOB like Sheffield, he is at least fun to watch when he wields his bat like a samurai sword.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      This is obviously an imposter. They didn’t trash Mike once.

    • jjyank

      “Plus, he wore braces up until a couple years ago, just like Girardi. If you have been making millions of dollars and never managed to fix your teeth until now, forget it. Go somewhere else”

      This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read on here.

      • rek4gehrig

        Me too. I had to read it twice to make sure I wasnt seeing things.

      • jesse

        I actually got a good laugh out of this as well.

    • Ta Ta Toothy

      Holy shit… Lol

  • the 3rd mke

    Oddly, i find myself in agreement with alot she wrote…but the trip into Bizzaro Dental World makes me question everything

  • Frank Castle

    Anyone think a three team swap of Granderson for Upton is a legit possibility? If so, would you prefer this over a Hunter/ Ichiro combo for 13?

    • Steve (different one)

      Depends what else the Yankees are kicking in. Otherwise wouldn’t the 3rd team just cut out the Yankees and take Upton?

    • Preston

      After trading Young, I think an Upton trade is very unlikely.

    • Ted Nelson

      As Steve says, it would take more than Granderson to get Upton. Granderson has one year remaining on his deal, while Upton has three. On top of that, Upton just turned 25. He’s likely to keep getting better/more consistent and get extended in a couple of years. Granderson will turn 32 in March and is already showing signs of a decline that will likely continue to erode his value throughout his next deal.