Sunday, July 16, 2006


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Is this how it ends? Not with a dive into the turf, or with a leap over the baggy, but quietly, from a routine outfield sprint? Or maybe it ended more spectacularly last July in Boston, only we didn’t realize it, or didn’t want to realize it.

When Torii Hunter pulled up lame on Saturday night with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his foot, it may have been the last straw the ends his career with the Minnesota Twins. He could get healthy and finish the year with the Twins – they certainly will have trouble trading him prior to the July 31st trade deadline given his questionable health – but it greatly reduced the number of scenarios in which Hunter could return in 2007.

That didn’t appear to be a question prior to the latest injury. There had been a deafening silence concerning trade rumors surrounding Hunter, both locally and nationally. The Twins, needing a solid centerfielder and right-handed power, looked poised to keep Hunter, whether it was by renewing the $2 million contract option they have or working towards a long-term deal. Hunter was having another year where he looked to provide exceptional defense, 25+ home runs and a .270 batting average (while occasionally making Twins fans pull out their hair). And the Twins payroll, assuming Brad Radke really retires, could have accommodated Hunter’s salary.

Instead, there are probably too many questions. The Twins must be wondering if Hunter’s surgically repaired left ankle will ever truly be healthy. Can they nurse it through a 162 game season with some rest (something Hunter and the Twins have not done this season)? And can they gamble $12 million next year on the answer?

But the Twins aren’t the only ones who have questions. Hunter has consistently said his heart is in Minnesota, but he’s always been cautious about playing on that damnable Metrodome turf. It’s certainly possible that the unnatural surface helped cause the stress fracture, and he may not experience the same problems if he plays eighty-one home games on grass. This injury might make his regrettable decision for him. There’s no amount of money a team can offer to replace a half dozen years of a players’ career.

It is a lose/lose situation for everyone. Hunter will face unanswerable questions in his first offseason as a free agent (and probably his last opportunity for a huge contract). The Twins will need to address a position that is thin both inside and outside of their organization. A fracture so small that x-rays were inconclusive could lead to a schism between the team and their most popular player. It’s a situation that nobody wants.

Least of all the fans. For several years, Hunter was able to negate the sterility of the Metrodome with his slugging, catching and smiling. It appears that again, the Metrodome will have the last laugh. Not by producing a spectacular flameout, but by utilizing quiet, debilitating erosion.

On the Hill

Tampa Bay: Tim Corcoran (4-0 1.57 ERA)

- 2005: 0-0, 22.2 IP, 13 K, 5.96 ERA
- 2006 (AAA): 5-1, 37.2 IP, 32 K, 1.91 ERA
- 2006: 23 IP, 19 H, 15 K, 9 BB, 1 HR
- Last year he was a reliever, and this year he was shelled in spring training, starting the year in AAA-Durham. Something good happened there. The 28-year-old had a great start and was called up in June to work in the Rays’ bullpen. A week later he was inserted in the rotation, where he’s continued to thrive.

Minnesota: Scott Baker (2-5, 6.06 ERA)

- 2005: 3-3, 54.2 IP, 32 K, 3.35 ERA
- 2006 (AAA): 3-2, 49.1 IP, 41 K, 2.92 ERA
- 2006: 49 IP, 66 H, 41 K, 8 BB, 10 HR
- Welcome back, Scott.
- “Keep the ball down” is a mantra to pitching coach Rick Anderson, and Baker didn’t do it his first time around, as evidenced by those hit and home run numbers. It looks like he was able to do that at Rochester, or maybe hitters there couldn’t make him pay like they could here. We’ll find out soon.

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