Torii Hunter has been a pretty good player over the course of his nine-year career. A lifetime .271/.324/.470 hitter who has played a solid centerfield, Hunter has been a key component of some of the better Twins teams in the franchise's history. That this great Twins run has coincided with Hunter's tenure seems to have enhanced his standing, both in his own and the public's eyes.
See this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune entitled, Suzuki's deal sets a higher bar for Hunter. Let's compare Suzuki and Hunter on a per 162 game average over the course of their respective MLB careers:
AVG OBP SLG OPS+ SB CS GIDP
Ichiro .333 .379 .439 120 40 9 5
Hunter .271 .324 .470 104 17 8 17
In Hunter's defense, Ichiro will be 34 to start next season while Hunter will be 32. But if he thinks Ichiro serves as any sort of proxy for the money coming his way, he has no argument at all. Ichiro is worth boatloads of money in off-the-field revenue and is a far better player than Hunter to boot. I don't doubt that some GM will grossly overpay for Hunter, but when jockeying for negotiating leverage, Hunter should shoot a good bit lower than the great Ichiro.
- Sully, 7/14/07, 1:21 PM EDT
Staying on topic, Andruw Jones will also be a free agent at the end of the season. Jones and Hunter head a strong class of center fielders that includes Mike Cameron and Aaron Rowand, as well as Milton Bradley, Eric Byrnes, and Corey Patterson.
If Ichiro Suzuki is an $18 million per year player, what are Jones and Hunter worth? How about Cameron and Rowand? As Sully pointed out, Ichiro is a special situation because of his off-the-field endorsement value. I would also argue that he is the most apt to put fans in the seats. As such, we can't compare Suzuki to the others without accounting for these non-statistical factors. In any event, which teams do you see stepping up?
Here is how the large-market clubs stand now:
NYY Damon 4 years/$52M (2006-09)
NYM Beltran 7 years/$119M (2005-11)
BOS Crisp 3 years/$15.5M (2007-09)*
CHC Pie 1 year/ (2007)
CWS Erstad 1 year/$1M (2007)**
LAD Pierre 5 years/$44M (2007-11)
LAA Matthews 5 years/$50M (2007-11)
* $8M club option in 2010 ($0.5M buyout)
** $3.5M club option in 2008 ($0.25M buyout)
The Yankees, of course, could move Damon to left field. In theory, the Dodgers could do the same with Pierre. The Mets and Angels are committed to Carlos Beltran and Gary Matthews, respectively. Coco Crisp could become a fourth outfielder, if need be. When it comes to Boston, the question isn't really about Crisp as much as it is Jacoby Ellsbury. Will the Red Sox let Crisp and Ellsbury battle it out next spring or will they look outside the organization for their next CF, even if means blocking Ellsbury's path to the bigs? The Chicago Cubs will face the same thought process as it relates to Felix Pie.
The White Sox are the most likely team to be in the market for one of these free agent CF. To the extent that these free agents go elsewhere, the Braves, Twins, Padres, and Phillies will need to find suitable replacements. The latter could turn to Michael Bourn, a 24-year-old speedster who can run 'em down but is unlikely to be much of a threat at the plate.
Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Toronto won't be in the market for a center fielder during the off-season. In theory, there are a number of potential suitors but, realistically speaking, there are only a handful of teams likely to dole out the big bucks for a Jones or Hunter type.
As for me, I see the Yankees stepping up and making a run at Jones or Hunter, especially if Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract. Put me down for Jones signing with the NYY and Hunter going to the CWS. I can see Cameron returning to the Padres and Byrnes to the Diamondbacks (although as a LF). I don't have a particularly good feel for Rowand but will take a wild guess and say that Oakland or San Francisco ends up with him. Neither Bradley or Patterson will draw much interest and will wind up signing shorter-term deals in the hopes of testing the market once again.
- Rich Lederer, 7/14/07, 11:30 PM PST