Tigers land Torii Hunter with two-year contract

As (somewhat) expected, the Tigers have agreed to sign outfielder Torii Hunter to a two-year contract worth $26M. The deal is still pending a physical, but that figures to be a non-issue. Erik Boland says the Yankees never made an offer.

The Yankees had some interest in the 37-year-old Hunter but reportedly would not offer him the two guaranteed years he was seeking thanks in part to the 2014 payroll plan. He fit their right field needs well despite an expected decline in performance thanks to a career-high (by far) .389 BABIP in 2012. The salary is fine but that second year would have made me uncomfortable. The Yankees need to limit their old-guy signings to one-year at this point.

Report: Torii Hunter expects to sign within two weeks

Via Mark Saxon: Outfielder Torii Hunter is expected to make a decision about his next team within two weeks, though a source told Mark Feinsand that “I’d say there is little shot” of him winding up in New York. Hunter said he hopes to sign soon during a recent radio interview and signed his last contract with the Angels before Thanksgiving, so he has a history of wrapping this stuff up quickly.

A number of teams have expressed interest in the 37-year-old Hunter, including the Yankees, Tigers, Rangers, Dodgers, and Red Sox, among others. Lots of teams have cash and need outfield help this winter, so he figured to be a popular target. The Yankees reportedly won’t offer him a two-year deal given their plan to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, which means they might be left on the outside looking in. Here’s my Scouting The Market post on Hunter.

Mailbag: Masterson, Ichiro, Hunter, Soria, Adams

Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us your questions throughout the week. A word of advice: I tend to write these things Thursday evening, so get your question in before then if you want me to answer it that week.

(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Nostradamus asks: I like the idea of Justin Masterson in pinstripes with his ground ball tendencies. If he can pitch close to his 2011 numbers he’d be a great pick-up. What would it take to get him? Maybe we can get Shin-Soo Choo in a package deal?

Masterson, 27, was awesome last year (3.21 ERA and 3.28 FIP) and kinda crappy this year (4.93 ERA and 4.16 FIP). In fact, if you look at his last four seasons, 2011 is the outlier, not 2012 — he pitched to a 4.63 ERA and 3.98 FIP from 2009-2010. The success last year came from a drop in walk rate (2.71 BB/9 and 7.2 BB%) and a big drop in HR/FB (6.3%). Those two rates bounced right back up to his career norms — 3.58 BB/9 (9.2 BB%) and 9.9% HR/FB — this year, hence the 2009-2010-esque performance.

I think there’s a disconnect between what people think Masterson is and what he really is, but he’s still on the right side of 30 and has been pretty durable in recent years. His sinker is ridiculous (career 56.0% grounders), but he doesn’t have a changeup and lefties tend to hit him pretty hard (career .351 wOBA against). I can’t think of many pitchers like Masterson who have been traded two years prior to free agency, but he’s not someone I think the Yankees should go out of their way to acquire. I think the price will be inflated relative to his actual production. Add Choo on top of that and I’m not even sure the Yankees have to pieces to get it done. The Indians want pitching, pitching, and more pitching, and the Yankees don’t have enough to spare.

Jeff asks: With Ichiro Suzuki interested in coming back next year and the Yanks seemingly interested in Torii Hunter, could you see both on the Yanks next year? Hunter could play RF with Ichiro as the righty-hitting DH (like Raul Ibanez). Or would you rather see a DH who’s a infielder?

Well, in that case I would recommend playing Brett Gardner in center, Hunter in right, Ichiro in left, and Curtis Granderson at DH. I don’t think the Yankees would sign both guys though unless Ichiro came really cheap, like true fourth outfielder money. A million bucks or two, that’s it. Even then it would still be tough to squeeze all four of these guys into the lineup since Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter need semi-regular reps at DH. I’m not sure how Ichiro or Hunter would adjust to part-time work like that, so I’d prefer signing a DH who is used to being platoon bat and sitting on the bench for a while. It’s not an easy adjustment. Infielder or outfielder depends on whether or not Eric Chavez returns, really.

Patrick asks: So its been reported to Joakim Soria would be willing to set up his idol Mariano Rivera. Awesomeness. How much would you be willing to spend and are you overly concerned that he’s had to have TJ twice?

(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Yes, the second Tommy John surgery is a big concern. Tons of guys have it and the procedure is relatively routine, but only the first time around. The second time is much different. We culled together some data on two-time TJS guys at FanGraphs over the summer, and only pitchers we dug up who threw at least 300 innings after the second surgery were Doug Brocail, Chris Capuano, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Jason Frasor. Many other two-time TJS guys had more arm problems afterward, likely because there was something wrong (bad genes? bad mechanics?) that caused them to need the two elbow reconstructions in the first place. It’s also worth noting that a bunch of guys had the second procedure near the end of their careers, so they weren’t going to reach that 300-inning level anyway.

That said, Soria is a special pitcher because his track record is elite and he’s only 28 years old. He’s reportedly seeking a multi-year contract and that’s no surprise, but I don’t want to see the Yankees go more than one guaranteed year with him, especially if they’re serious about the 2014 payroll plan. A one-year deal ($4-6M?) with a club or even vesting option (based on appearances) would be ideal since it gives the club some protection in case he gets hurt again or just doesn’t pitch well. You can make the argument that it should be preferable for Soria since he’d be able to rebuild value and go back out on the market in search of a big contract next winter. If they guarantee him like $8M (salary plus buyout) and keep the deal to one guaranteed year, that would be perfect. Anything more would make me nervous.

Travis asks: So if A-Rod winds up having to DH a lot sooner than expected, is David Adams a legitimate internal option to play third base? My gut says no. Do you see the Yankees going after any free agent in particular to back up at third? Do they go after Chavez again? I’m worried about his durability if he sees increased workloads like he did last year.

Outside of Eduardo Nunez, who the Yankees say will stick to shortstop and only shortstop going forward, Adams is by far the team’s best internal hope for a third baseman. At least in the near future since guys like Dante Bichette Jr. and Miguel Andujar are way down in the low minors. It’s unlikely Corban Joseph can handle the position at the big league level and not because of his range or instincts or anything like that, he just doesn’t have the arm for it. That’s not an easy throw to make.

Adams could always hit, that was never really a question, but the injuries have been a problem these last three years. He missed an awful lot of time with the ankle problem and still hasn’t played a full, healthy season since 2009. I think there’s enough patience and bat control there for him to be a .280/.340 guy with doubles power in the show, maybe 10-15 dingers at his peak. Obviously that’s someone you’d rather have at second than at the hot corner, where teams typically expect more offensively. I think the Yankees will break him in as a utility man down the line, but for next year the plan probably involves bringing Chavez (or a similar player) back if he’s open to it.

Sherman: Yankees not in on Upton, wouldn’t do two years for Hunter

Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are not in on the Justin Upton trade talks and they also wouldn’t do a two-year contract for Torii Hunter with the 2014 payroll plan looming. They are fixated on one-year commitments this offseason.

It’s always tough to gauge what exactly the team’s true intentions are with reports like this. Are they not in on Upton because they don’t want other teams to know they’re in on Upton, or because they legitimately don’t like him as a player? Would they do two years for Hunter but don’t want to come out and say it? Who knows. The Yankees haven’t exactly been a team that telegraphs their intentions under Cashman.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Torii Hunter

(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.

Report: Yankees have interest in Torii Hunter

Via Mark Feinsand: The Yankees have interest in free agent-to-be outfielder Torii Hunter. The Angels are unlikely to make him a qualifying offer, meaning it would not cost a draft pick to sign him.

Hunter, 37, hit .313/.365/.451 with 16 homers with the Halos this offseason, though his .389 BABIP was wildly out of whack compared to the rest of his career (.307). He’s been a consistently above-average hitter throughout his career though, plus he offers solid defense in right field. The Yankees love strong character as well, and Hunter is widely considered to be one of the best guys in the game. He’s a fit and someone we will hear an awful lot about in the coming weeks.

Thoughts following the series loss to the Jays

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

These last nine games have been just brutal. The Yankees have lost six of the nine, including three to the lowly Indians and Blue Jays. Those games should be gimme’s — I probably would have been a little bummed out if they had only won four of the six. Instead, they got just three. The injuries have been piling up and their impact is starting to catch up with the club, particularly offensively. There’s only so many platoon players you can sandwich into one lineup. Anyway…

1. This goes without saying, but the next ten games are enormous. Three at home against the Orioles, three at the Rays, then four at the Orioles. That’s make or break type stuff for New York and Baltimore. If one of them wins seven or eight of ten, they’ll probably be sitting atop the AL East in two weeks. On the other side of the coin, seven or eight losses will really bury someone. If all three clubs kinda tread water these next two weeks, it’s good for the Yankees since they’re already in first place. Obviously I would like to see them increase their division lead during that time, but staying in first place is most important thing.

(Jeff Gross/Getty)

2. The Angels are a ways back (with a lot of teams ahead of them) in the Wild Card chase and I wonder if (hope?) they’d be willing to trade Torii Hunter to the Yankees like, today. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez aren’t coming back anytime soon and the Bombers need the extra bat for these upcoming games. Hunter is having a decent year (.294/.347/.430) and he’d give the Yankees someone capable of hitting both lefties and righties (splits), which I consider a glaring need. They could continue to play Nick Swisher at first and not have to deal with Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones-level defense in right as well. Hunter has expressed interest in playing for the Yankees recently, though I have no idea if he’s been passed through trade waivers yet. He’s due to become a free agent after the season and the Angels could save about $3M by dumping him on New York for September. The only problem is time: they would have to swing a trade by midnight tomorrow for Hunter to be eligible for the playoff roster. I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

3. Since the start of August, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano have combined for a 2.22 ERA (2.64 FIP) with a 7.67 K/BB in 24.1 innings. The rest of the bullpen? They’ve combined for a 4.97 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 2.92 K/BB in 41.2 innings. I actually thought the second batch of numbers would be much worse than that. Boone Logan has been the team’s third best reliever all season, and Joe Girardi really doesn’t have another reliable right-hander in the bullpen other than his two top guys. Derek Lowe and Cody Eppley are far too hittable while Joba Chamberlain has zero control (nevermind command) coming off Tommy John surgery. Maybe Cory Wade will be effective when he rejoins the team next month, but otherwise the only other right-handed relief help on the way is David Phelps when Andy Pettitte gets healthy and returns to the rotation. I shouldn’t even say “when,” I should say “if.”

4. Be honest, did you really think Derek Jeter would be hitting .321/.363/.448 through the team’s first 130 games when the season started? Even if you completely bought into his second half last summer and felt that the mechanical fix he made while on the DL cured him of all his ills, this still feels like 90th-percentile outcome stuff. Thirty-eight-year-old middle infielders just aren’t supposed to hit like this. In fact, Jeter’s 118 OPS+ is the sixth highest by the full-time shortstop that age behind two guys: Luke Appling (1947 and 1949) and Honus Wagner (1912, 1915, 1916). The only other middle infielders in the last 50 years with a 117 OPS+ at age 38 (or older) are second baseman Jeff Kent (123 in 2007) and Joe Morgan (136 in 1982). This is historic stuff from the Cap’n. Shortstops this age just aren’t supposed to be this productive.