For Angels, heaven is a killer roster

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2012 - 9:56 PM

Former Twin Torii Hunter returns to the Twin Cities on an Angels team he hopes will get him his first World Series ring.

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Torii Hunter is in the final year of his contract with the Angels.

Photo: Jeff Lewis, Associated Press

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The $90 million contract that enticed Torii Hunter to leave Minnesota after nine seasons with the Twins expires in October, and the Angels outfielder doesn't know where he will play next year.

"This year is pretty big. [The Angels] are waiting to see how the year goes, and that's fine," Hunter said last month in Tempe, Ariz. "Hopefully we get together [on a new contract] and I stay. But if not, I know what I'm looking for."

One more big payday? Three or four more years of guaranteed money? A reunion with Ron Gardenhire?

All would be nice, the 36-year-old said. None are particularly important.

"I've made my money, man, it's not about that," he said. "I don't have a [World Series] ring, and I hate that. At a certain point, it's not about the contract anymore -- I have to play for a team that's really got a chance to win" a championship.

That's why he has loved playing for the Angels since 2008 -- he played for a division champion in his first two seasons in Anaheim, has won at a .560 pace over four seasons, and after the Texas Rangers won the division the past two seasons, the Angels responded last winter by splurging on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in an effort to reassert their AL West supremacy.

"I mean, they went out and got this guy," Hunter said, gesturing toward Pujols, a three-time MVP. "What else do you need to know about how much they want to win around here?"

Well, perhaps one other thing. The Angels' top four starting pitchers -- Wilson, Jared Weaver, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren -- give them one of the best quartets in the major leagues, and the addition of Pujols and the return from a knee injury of Kendrys Morales boosts an offense that has scored fewer than 700 runs each of the past two seasons.

But that offense was primarily powered by a rookie last year: Mark Trumbo, who clubbed 29 home runs, 61 extra-base hits, and 87 runs batted in, all team highs. And Trumbo woke up one day in January to discover his job -- first base -- had been given away to Pujols.

"Yeah, it was surprising, but I'd have done it, too," Trumbo said in Tempe. "I don't think anyone is going to say signing a guy like [Pujols] is a bad idea."

No, but the Angels' next idea might or might not be; it has certainly been debated ever since. With Pujols manning first base and Morales slotted as the designated hitter, the Angels hope to keep Trumbo playing regularly by moving him across the diamond. Trouble is, Trumbo never has played third base at any level of pro ball. And the major leagues are a tough place to serve an apprenticeship.

"I study tape, I work with the coaches, I take a lot of ground balls. I've talked to a lot of people with plenty of experience over there, and I feel good about my ability to [handle] it," Trumbo said. "It's about footwork, getting your feet set, it's about reflexes, and not trying to do too much. It's coming along pretty well."

"We're excited about the prospect of him being able to make the routine plays at third base and handle things well enough to allow us to keep his bat in the lineup," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He has the potential to be very good. But we're not going to know this until we see him in games, with guys hitting 90-mph fastballs down the third-base line."

Reviews were mixed in the spring; Trumbo made several strong plays and seemed to be reaching a comfort level, but he also committed four errors. And in the Angels' opener Friday night, he rushed a throw that pulled Pujols off the bag for an error, then overran a foul popup for a second one.

"I'd be lying if I said" that his confidence wasn't shaken, Trumbo said after the game.

But Hunter has confidence, too, that the Angels will be strong at third base, no matter who plays it.

"[Alberto] Callaspo, he played third base like a Gold Glover last year," Hunter said. Gesturing toward Trumbo, he added, "and this guy can hit a bomb at any time. Trumbo will hit in more than he lets in. He'll help us win."

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