Washington Nationals 2013 Off-Season Targets: Torii Hunter
In the past the big deciding factor in the value of a free agent was name value. That has diminished a bit. Better players well have bigger name value, but it isn't so much a deciding factor in the signing of free agents. Youth and potential have started to play a bigger role. Teams are no longer as willing to pay for past performance with aging veterans. It has caused a strange thing to happen. Aging veterans have become undervalued.
Just last off-season the Cardinals were able to sign Carlos Beltran to a two year $26 million contract. His batting line of .269/.346/.495 is slightly below his career batting line of .282/.360/.496, but the Cardinals got Carlos Beltran for a discount. Another big aspect that made the Carlos Beltran deal work was that he wasn't expected to be a key cog on the team. Carlos Beltran was signed to be a complimentary player. The fact that he was close to the Carlos Beltran of old was a bonus.
That begs the question of who could be this off-season's Carlos Beltran, and the answer is simple, Torii Hunter. Both Hunter and Beltran were two of the best centerfielders of this past generation who can no longer play centerfield. Beltran has the better bat, but it is hard to imagine that Hunter wouldn't be a defensive upgrade over Michael Morse in left. Hunter is a career .277/.335/.466 hitter and could be expected to be somewhat around that if not slightly below.
In six of the past seven seasons Hunter has had an OPS over .800, and while not the prototypical power hitting left fielder Hunter wouldn't need to be. The real value of signing Torii Hunter isn't what he does for you it is what he doesn't do. The signing of Torii Hunter would act as a stop gap while Brian Goodwin works his way through the minors. It is also important to consider that Hunter is a career .801 OPS player while Bourn is a career .704 and BJ Upton .758. Both of those could offer better defense in center and allow Harper to shift to left sooner, but Harper played well in center this season and should be able to handle the position for at least two more seasons.
Even as Hunter is declining it would take a steep decline for him to reach the current production of Bourn or Upton and he allows the Nats to let Goodwin develop and not have to be locked into a long term deal. In essence it is the best of both worlds in getting to add a player that can help them win now and not messing up any future plans with regards to the farm system.
The cost for Torii Hunter that has been floated out there is two years and $20 million. That is slightly below what Beltran got, but Hunter is a slightly lesser player. This would also be a new situation for Hunter as when he was on the Twins he was the star of the team and he was brought into the Angels organization to be a star. He did spend this past season fading into the background behind young players like Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, but he was still one of the higher paid players on that team. On the Nationals Hunter would be brought in to be a stop gap and to help mentor the young players.
The acquisition of Hunter would make the Nationals line-up right handed heavy if LaRoche is not brought back, and if LaRoche is back it would mean an end to Michael Morse as a National. These options have to be weighed as well, but Morse is so bad defensively in left he removes any offensive value he adds. The move for Hunter is a good one for 2013 and an even better one beyond.