The Twins return to Target Field on Friday for three games that could mark the end of Torii Hunter’s career, or the end of his Twins career, or his last home games in Twinstripes, meaning it may be time to finally say goodbye for good.
Cutting Hunter loose a second time would seem to be the easiest decision the Twins will make this winter. They are overloaded with talented young outfielders. Hunter will be 41 next year. He wants to play a major role if he returns. He doesn’t logically fit into the future of this organization unless you accept that often the Twins’ easiest decisions are sometimes their most costly.
Cut an out-of-shape, injury-prone, slump-ridden designated hitter as he becomes expensive? Easy decision, until that player becomes the Boston version of David Ortiz.
Let an aging center fielder leave in free agency because you have other options at the position and few aging center fielders maintain their fielding or hitting prowess? Easy decision, until Hunter himself proves with the Angels and Tigers that he is an exception an exceptional presence on winning teams.
It would be easy for Hunter to walk away at the end of a brilliant career, and it would be easy for the Twins to let him walk, but there is a deal to be made here if both sides are flexible and trust one another.
There are two reasons the Twins are considering bringing Hunter back, and two reasons Hunter should consider re-signing.
Twins’ reason No. 1: Aaron Hicks still has not produced a full season of big-league competence. Byron Buxton has to learn how to hit advanced pitching. Oswaldo Arcia is a mess. Max Kepler is a mystery. Adam Brett Walker’s power is offset by his high strikeout rate.
This spring the Twins counted on Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas to produce as sophomores. Both failed. Hunter can provide power and insurance.
Twins’ reason No. 2: The team improved dramatically this season with Hunter providing leadership and helping manager Paul Molitor. Why alter that formula until you have to?
Hunter’s reason No. 1: Where else can he get this gig? Hunter is revered in the clubhouse and organization, revered in Minnesota, admires the general manager and manager with whom he works, has a bond with his most important teammates, and can make a nice golden parachute by doing what he loves for one more year.
Hunter’s reason No. 2: Hunter never has won a World Series. The development of Jose Berrios and Buxton, along with the maturing of Miguel Sano and some of the Twins’ other top prospects, gives him a chance to win one with his original team.
It’s doubtful that Hunter wants to return as a figurehead or a coach/player. He will want guarantees that he will be in the lineup. The Twins can’t give him that, not for the whole season.
Based on my conversations with a number of key people in the organization, there is a deal to be made. The Twins value Hunter, and he would like to one day work in the Twins’ front office or broadcast booth.
The Twins can point out that Hunter broke out of a midseason slump after the Twins rested him. When his legs are fresh, he can produce. The Twins can promise him a starting job on Opening Day and guess that he could earn three or four starts a week, whether in the outfield or at DH.
For years the Twins have employed fourth outfielders who were barely qualified to be in the majors. Hunter could be a different kind of fourth outfielder — a spot starter and pinch-hitter with the most important personality in a clubhouse he helped make professional and productive.
To make this deal, both sides will have to offer a measure of faith and the promise of flexibility. It would be much easier to let Hunter walk away, but the easiest decision is not always the best decision, not for the Twins, and not when the Twins have made big decisions regarding Hunter.