Hunter's character adds to his free-agent value
The ideal free-agent acquisition would be a player who would help his new team not only with his abilities, but would also represent an intangible plus with his presence.
That's one way to describe Torii Hunter, outfielder, most recently employed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
At 37, Hunter obviously has something left. He hit .313/.365/.451 with 16 home runs and 92 RBIs in 2012. Hunter has been one of the finest defensive outfielders in the game, winning nine straight Gold Gloves, from 2001-09. But when the Angels asked him to move from the outfield spotlight in center to right, he made the move with typical dignity and grace.
And that's an important part of the Torii Hunter package. He is a relentlessly positive clubhouse presence, a good teammate, a leader, and at this point, precisely the right kind of veteran influence on younger players.
Why then, is Hunter available on the open market? At the end of his five-year, $90 million contract, the Angels did not make Hunter a $13.3 million qualifying offer. The Angels are loaded with young, talented and, for the moment at least, relatively inexpensive outfielders -- Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos.
The club also still owes veteran outfielder Vernon Wells $42 million over the next two years. Also faced with a need to bolster their rotation, even the Angels have limitations on their ability to spend.
This is obviously not an ascending career. Hunter is not, for instance, the stolen-base threat that he once was. But his 2012 performance was telling. Not only were Hunter's offensive numbers good, but his best month was September. This was not the work of a career in sharp decline.
Beyond that, Hunter has been at the core of a number of good teams. He has been on six teams that have qualified for the postseason; four with the Twins, two with the Angels. And Hunter has performed exceedingly well when given a chance to play October baseball, hitting .305/.370/.489.
But the one thing not in Hunter's history is a World Series, and he has made no secret of the fact that this will be a major consideration for him in selecting his next, and perhaps last, place of Major League employment.
And he may have enough options to make that sort of choice. At this point, Hunter wouldn't make much sense for a rebuilding operation. A long-term deal isn't in the cards, either, but a two-year contract for a substantial amount of money, although not an $18 million annual average, would not be at all unreasonable.
There should be no shortage of potential new employers for Hunter. The Yankees and the Red Sox, for instance, have both been reported to have interest in signing him. That sort of competition has always been good news for a free agent.
The bottom line is that the team that signs Hunter will get a corner outfielder who is still productive at the plate and still well above average defensively. That in itself is substantial.
With Torii Hunter, though, the human side of the equation can be even more impressive than the tangible side. He will be a supportive, empathetic teammate. Hunter will be a reliable source of good cheer. And in good times and bad, he will take the pressure off his teammates by making himself not only readily available to the media, but by being consistently, unfailingly candid and honest with the media.
There will be more highly publicized, more expensive free-agent acquisitions than Torii Hunter this winter. But there won't be many that are better combinations of playing ability and personal quality.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.