Life is often better with Torii Hunter around. Ask the Minnesota Twins. Now, it seems, you can ask the Los Angeles Angels, as well.
Barring serious second thoughts by the Angels, Hunter is gone, off to spend his career's twilight in Detroit or Texas or some town whose baseball franchise believes twilight doesn't necessarily mean an abrupt end.
Hunter reportedly met with the Tigers on Tuesday in Detroit. He has a habit of finding a place he likes and beating the rush. In 2007, he signed with the Angels on Nov. 22.
Angels fans rallied for months around the bring-back-Torii cause, which the Angels themselves largely ignored. They'll apparently invest instead in a Mike Trout-Peter Bourjos-Mark Trumbo outfield, in Vernon Wells as a fourth outfielder, in Kole Calhoun as depth.
Hunter is 37 at a time we're starting to believe in age again, primarily as a deterrent. On the other hand, he just put up the sixth-best OPS of his career, his best batting average (by 14 points), and his second-best on-base percentage. More, in 85 games batting second – behind Trout and in front of Albert Pujols – he hit .343. And, he still plays a supremely competent right field.
This is the spot the Angels are in. They have a fan favorite, a clubhouse favorite, a productive player who, in his walk year, hitting between the best player in the American League and the best hitter of the past decade, had a terrific season. They have a 25-year-old outfielder – Bourjos – who showed promise with playing time in 2011. They have a developing power hitter – Trumbo – who was among the best players in the game in the first half, but was lost in the second.
And they have Wells, still due $42 million over the next two seasons.
[Related: Ultimate MLB free-agent tracker]
In Indian Wells, Calif., last week, general manager Jerry Dipoto seemed reasonably secure moving ahead with that group while addressing the club's rotation and bullpen. Yes, the Angels are in on Zack Greinke. Yes, they believe Ernesto Frieri can be the closer going forward. Yes, they continue to seek pitching, under the assumption an offense that ran third to the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees can maintain without Hunter.
Still, there is no debating what the Angels lose in Hunter, at least in the short term. He played healthy and he played hurt. He sold the franchise with his personality and drive. He served as a mentor/big brother to Trout.
"I've been calling him, wishing him the best luck," Trout said after winning the American League Rookie of the Year award Monday. "Doesn't look like he's coming back. Just thanking him. He's just an incredible guy."
The Angels likely are thinking about getting out a year early rather than a year late, while the Tigers watched themselves go offensively stale over periods in the regular season and then bat .159 in the World Series. They could hit Hunter in the two-hole, as the Angels did, and ride that for another couple years. And Angels owner Arte Moreno probably is in no mood for fuzzy sentiment after watching his $150 million-plus roster play to third place in the AL West.
As Hunter told CBS Sports this week, the offer he received from the Angels was "very disrespectful." So that's that.
Regardless of whether Hunter jumps at what the Tigers may offer, or he examines other organizations (Texas is near Hunter's home), he's found a robust market for his late 30s. Only not in Anaheim, where they're content to try life without him and see if that's any better.
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