ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Torii Hunter's production is slowing now, at age 36, in the fourth year of his five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels.
He moved to right field last season, and even after a good series against the Twins last week, he entered Saturday batting .245 with 14 homers and 54 RBI.
The natural conclusion is that the Twins made the right decision in November 2007, when they let Hunter leave via free agency.
But let's pretend, for a moment, that things had played out differently. This seems especially instructive now, with the Twins weighing what to do with potential free agent Michael Cuddyer. There are some clear parallels. Like Hunter, Cuddyer has emerged as the team's heart and soul.
Late in the 2007 season, the Twins tried to entice Hunter to stay with a three-year, $45 million offer. Basically, it was a non-starter, a "Hey, we tried" type of move. And the scary thing is, the Twins never offered more, even as Hunter was wooed by the Rangers, White Sox, Royals and Angels.
It was typical of the Twins' decision-making in the Metrodome, where their payroll never topped $72 million.
So it was a positive sign when word leaked that the Twins had tried negotiating with Cuddyer recently. But once again, their trial balloon offer -- two years for $16 million -- was a non-starter.
Cuddyer, 32, almost surely will command a three-year contract on the free-agent market. He is making $10.5 million this year and having a big season, so the guaranteed money in his next deal could approach $30 million.
Maybe that seems steep, considering Cuddyer will be 35 in 2014. But if the Twins sincerely want to keep him, as many insiders say, it's surprising they haven't been more aggressive.
After all, this is a new era at Target Field. The payroll has climbed past $115 million, and they're paying one player alone, Joe Mauer, $23 million.
The Twins probably would have felt like they were overpaying Hunter, though he insists he would have taken less money to stay. Had the sides compromised, that offseason could have played out differently.
With Hunter staying, the Twins would have had less incentive to ship Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay for the righthanded-hitting Delmon Young. And maybe, in the trade that sent Johan Santana to the Mets, the Twins could have landed lefthanded pitcher Jonathon Niese instead of outfielder Carlos Gomez.
Of course, after committing to Hunter, the Twins might have been less reluctant to do long-term deals with Cuddyer and Justin Morneau in January 2008. Perhaps they would have driven a harder bargain with Mauer, since Hunter had been the face of the franchise.
It's easy to second-guess now.
The Angels got their money's worth from Hunter in the first three years of his deal. His $18 million salary looks pretty steep for next year, considering his waning production, but that's what happens with free agents. Teams often overpay by one year.
Hunter isn't finished yet. His batting average might be down, but according to fangraphs.com, his line-drive percentage (20.3) is well above his career mark, and though his strikeout rate (20.5 percent) is up, his batting average on balls in play (.278) is down.
"It's the first time in 11 years that I've really just struggled, but there's actually been a lot of bad luck in there," Hunter said.
If the Angels can overcome the Rangers, Hunter will reach the playoffs for the seventh time. Cuddyer also is seeking his seventh playoff berth, all with the Twins.
Either way, Cuddyer wants to come back. It didn't work out for Hunter, but maybe it will for him.