There I am, preparing for opening night of the baseball season. The last Grain Belt from the fridge is in one hand, the remote in the other, and I’m doing my pregame warm-up: watching Baseball Tonight as I take that first sip.
Followed by a pratfallish spit take. Harold Reynolds, you see, was doing a preview of players who may be moved at the trade deadline (because it’s never too early to talk trade deadline). The player he’s talking about is Torii.
I know what you’re thinking, and I don’t want to dwell on this either. It’s too early, and I think Reynolds is crazy if he thinks a Twins team that is even remotely in the race is going to trade Torii Hunter. But it’s worth noting that if the Twins are flailing as the deadline approaches, Terry Ryan is going to be asked about trading Hunter. A lot. And even if he isn’t, you can bet that other sportswriters in other cities are going to be talking about it a lot. So we might as well handle this thing head on.
There are reasons to trade Hunter. First, he is worth something in return, possibly something very good. Second, he’ll likely be leaving the Twins in the offseason regardless. Finally, moving him at the trade deadline would save the Twins approximately $5.5 million between his salary and the bonus they owe him at the end of the year. So this isn’t just crazy talk.
He’s also likely worth more to a large market team, because Hunter isn’t necessarily a free agent at the end of this season. Whichever team trades for him has a $12 million option on his contract in 2007, which isn’t so unreasonable considering Johnny Damon just received $13 million for four years from the Yankees. To a large market team who can afford that kind of contract, Hunter isn’t just a half-year rental player.
So which teams are most likely to be interested in Torii, and what would they need to offer the Twins? Let’s look at the top eleven (Why eleven? You’ll find out.) payrolls in the majors and see if we can find the best fit.
1. Yankees - They just signed Johnny Damon for four years and $52 million, though that doesn’t necessarily rule them out. Steinbrenner could switch gears if Damon were to suffer a career ending injury, or go 0 for 4 any given night. But it’s unlikely.
2. Boston - They’re a large market, with the second highest payroll in the major leagues. Unfortunately, they also just acquired Coco Crisp, who is much younger, much cheaper, and who put up Hunteresque offensive numbers last year, with fewer strikeouts. Unless he really struggles, they aren’t a great fit. And even if he is struggling a little, it’s unlikely they would be willing to give up a top prospect like Dustin Pedroia. A player like third baseman Kevin Youkilis might be had, but he’s 27, still isn’t showing any power, and will cease to be affordable fairly soon.
3. New York Mets – Carlos Beltran is under contract through 2011. Not even Omar Minaya would sign Hunter with Beltran on his roster, right?
4. Philadelphia – They also just acquired acquired a center fielder. You might have heard about a little trade that sent Jim Thome to the White Sox and nabbed Aaron Rowand. Rowand is under contract through 2007.
5. LA Angels - Hmmmm. Now this is intriguing. The Angels have the fifth largest payroll in the majors, traditionally emphasize defense, and are stuck with the offensive sieve that is Darin Erstad, whose contract expires this year. Plus, they have a second base and a shortstop who are among the top ten prospects in baseball. If they can stay close to the Athletics, you’re going to hear lots and lots of talk about a trade for Hunter from LA sportswriters.
There are six other teams to review, including one more that is every bit the match that the Angels are. The second half of this column is continued over at TwinkieTown.com, where I’m guest writing for Jesse while he’s out of town. If you miss any of the old bloggers from TwinsTerritory.com, you’ll find most of them over at TwinkieTown, so I hope you can stop by. (And I truly mean “can” instead of “will” since I am blocked from that site from work.) I’ll see you there.