Sure, the Major League Baseball season just began. That won’t stop anyone from looking into the future. Given his situation, Torii Hunter’s tenure with the Angels may be coming to an end in the not too distant future. There is good reason for Hunter and the Angels to wonder about their future together. He is in the final year of the 5-year, $90 million contract he signed after the 2007 season. In addressing his impending free agency with Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, Hunter seemed to understand the situation facing him and the front office, ”I don’t want to bother those guys,” Hunter said. “They’ve had so much going on. I definitely feel no rush. It’d be nice (to get an extension offer) but if not, I understand. There’s no rush. They have other guys like (Erick) Aybar they need to lock up. Plus they’ve got (Mike) Trout lying in the weeds.” Something could happen before the end of the season (contract extension, never rule out a trade, etc.) but the outfielder is likely headed for free agency.
Assuming Hunter becomes a free agent, the Angels may not be especially eager to re-sign him. The outfield is a crowded area for Anaheim. With another good year Peter Bourjos could establish himself as a mainstay. Vernon Wells, effective or not, is under contract for $21 million per season through 2014. Then there is the franchise’s top prospect Mike Trout, rated as the third best prospect overall by MLB.com, who is biding time in the minors and waiting for an opportunity to make an impact with the big club. By all accounts Trout is ready for the big leagues. This time next year it would be a surprise if he wasn’t at least given a chance to be an everyday outfielder for the Major League team. Given the young ages and talent of Bourjos and Trout one concludes they figure into the Angels’ long term plans. With Bourjos, Wells, and Trout the Angels outfield looks to be locked down through 2014 (although if Wells plays as poorly as he did last season the team may have no choice but to look at alternatives). The team could even try to carve out an outfield spot for Mark Trumbo if the third base experiment doesn’t improve. Albert Pujols is not moving off first base, and as long as Kendrys Morales hits he will be in the lineup as the designated hitter. There doesn’t seem to be many scenarios where the Angels will still have Hunter as an everyday outfielder beyond this season.
Hunter’s age and production are also considerations. He will turn 37 this July. Even if the Angels end up re-signing him, he can only be regarded as a stopgap. This is another reason why the front office may not have him in their future plans. Realistically, he only has a few more seasons left in his playing career, though Hunter has proven he is still a valuable player in his mid-30s. In his four full seasons with Anaheim he has been a consistent presence averaging 22 home runs, 79 runs, 85 RBIs, .280 batting average, .350 on-base percentage, .467 slugging percentage, with no major outliers. The statistic WAR has rated Hunter as at least a solid starter in each of his seasons with the Angels (source: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference). Last season was his poorest statistical with the team, but it was still mostly in line with previous performance. The one area that has seen a downward trend is stolen bases. His stolen base/caught stealing numbers in his four seasons with the Angels: 2008: 19/5, 2009: 18/4, 2010: 9/12, 2011: 5/7. Still, there is reason to believe Hunter can contribute as an everyday outfielder in the major leagues after the 2012 season. This season will determine a lot in that respect.
“My focus is on winning. If you do that, all the other stuff will take care of itself.”
Whether or not Torii Hunter is wearing an Angels’ uniform in 2013, he seems to have the right attitude about his situation and how to approach it in 2012. Hunter said, “My main goal is to win. I’m not really as eager to be a free agent now.” Hunter is saying the right things and is off to a nice start. If Hunter really is focused on winning, which there is no reason to think otherwise, he seems to be in the right place this season.