Hunter is a treasure in center field
Torii Hunter in Angels red? Torii Hunter mashing homers, snatching liners, hustling around the bases and bringing some high-kilowatt spark to a low-key clubhouse?
Wow. Nice move.
Hunter will be Orange County’s new center fielder for $90 million over five years. Not chump change, but by bringing this superb performer into the fold, the Angels have nudged a whole lot closer to their World Series dreams.
If you haven’t been paying attention to Torii Hunter, then you’ve been missing out. He is everything a baseball player should be, particularly in an era when the game needs to sell itself to a younger generation looking for more sizzle.
The Angels wanted a heavy new bat. They got it.
Granted, Hunter doesn’t bring monster power to Anaheim. But with him in the line-up, other teams won’t be able to dink their way around Vladimir Guerrero, who has been the straw that stirs the drink. If they try, they’ll have to deal with Hunter, an RBI machine who hit 31 homers two years ago and 28 last year.
Of course, there’s much more to Hunter than his bat. Here’s a guy who fits right in with the Angels’ philosophy: slash at opposing teams with swift-boat speed. Hunter will pilfer plenty of bases. He’ll hit line drives, and he’ll scramble from first to third and rarely get caught.
Angels fans, I know it’s the day after Thanksgiving and you’re stuffed, but you should be licking your chops.
Close your eyes and imagine this guy in your outfield. There is a reason Hunter is a seven-time Gold Glove winner. Picture Boston in town. Those Red Sox fans and their incessant “Let’s go, Red Sox” are making you nuts. Suddenly, Manny Ramirez drives a ball deep into center field.
There it goes, another Manny home run.
Wait, what’s that?
It’s Torii Hunter flying high above the center-field wall, arm stretched, glove wide.
Home run stolen.
“Let’s go, Red Sox”? Put a sock in it.
Then there’s Hunter the person. In Minneapolis, fans are in mourning. They know they’ve just lost a guy who has gone flat out for them for nearly a decade -- on the field and in the community.
Hunter is known as a mensch. And he’s a spark plug. The Angels are a good group of guys who seem to get along, but their clubhouse feels a little calm. They need some crackle, someone to lighten the moment and generate some spirit to repeat their 2002 World Series run.
Hunter’s personality is going to help.
It goes without saying, however, that signing Hunter raises some questions.
Now there’s a logjam in the outfield. Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr. play the same position. Some worry about how Matthews will take Hunter’s arrival.
I don’t want to hear any moaning, Gary -- not after the way the Angels stuck by you when you were caught up in a growth hormone controversy last season.
The Angels would do well to play Hunter at center for 160 games and let his teammates rotate around him, moving from the other outfield spots to designated hitter to the bench.
Don’t be surprised if the Angels aren’t finished with their off-season upgrades. One or two outfielders might be packaged in a trade for yet another hot bat.
Arte Moreno, be careful. Don’t be tempted by Miguel Tejada. I don’t like his downward trend.
And please be leery of the Marlins’ cherubic Miguel Cabrera. The guy has a sweet swing, but he’s in danger of eating himself off the ball field and onto a fat farm. If you insist on signing him, put more weight incentives in his contract than a breakfast buffet has sausages.
One more thing, Arte. Please don’t forget that getting Hunter was only half smart. The other half was who you didn’t get.
Alex Rodriguez, for example.
As I wrote toward the end of last season, A-Rod is a marvelous player, but bringing him to Anaheim would have been a mistake. He would have hit home runs, but he also would have upset the dynamic of a carefully constructed team with his gigantic salary and ego.
Besides, when has he ever won a championship?
My suggestion back then was to go after Torii Hunter instead. I’m glad you did.
Kurt Streeter can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Streeter, go to latimes.com/streeter.
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Torii Hunter -- a seven-time Gold Glove winner -- will be the everyday center fielder and hit in the middle of the Angels’ lineup, making it tougher for pitchers to pitch around Vladimir Guerrero, the team hopes. A look at Hunter’s numbers, all in Minnesota:
Sources: Associated Press and baseball-reference.com
Los Angeles Times