Why the Twins Should Trade Torii
Well, here I am, back from a restful vacation, only to find all of Twins Territory in a tizzy because Torii Hunter has put his local condo on the market. Does that mean he knows he's on the way out after the season? Would trading him be a step backwards for the club, or a public relations disaster? Or could it be a good opportunity?
Jim Souhan has lobbied against the idea, as have Batgirl and 3BL. Ideally, I would like to see Carl Pohlad just give his GM an extra $25 million to buy a couple big sticks this winter, allowing him to keep Hunter in the fold for at least another season. But what are the chances?
So Terry Ryan is in a bit of a bind. He needs to upgrade an offense that ranks 13th in the AL, but he doesn't have much wiggle room in his budget so long as Torii Hunter stands to take up 18% of the payroll. Pair Torii with Shannon Stewart, and that's 28.75% of next year's budget on a couple bats whose production is rather mediocre for the outfield. If he trades Torii, and can either trade Stewart or say goodbye to Jacque Jones, that would give the club a lot of financial flexibility to address problems in the lineup. Getting busy in the trading pool could also allow Ryan to look beyond the thin free agent market for help.
The big names in the prospective free agent market include Brian Giles, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon, Bernie Williams, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Paul Konerko, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Joe Randa, Mark Grudzielanek, Richard Hidalgo, Kenny Lofton, Matt Lawton, and Juan Encarnacion. There isn't much left from there. The Twins might be able to land a couple guys in that pool who could help, if Ryan has the money to spend; but to make some truly impactful changes this winter, the GM really needs to make a blockbuster trade.
How about trading some pitching? The Twins have plenty of it. And Kyle Lohse, due to make at least $4m in arbitration this winter, would be an ideal chip to trade. Perhaps Ryan can entice some interest by dangling a pitching prospect or two, as well. But he has to be mindful of planning for 2007 and beyond, too. At that point, a number of Twins pitchers' contracts will be expiring or becoming expensive. The club will need youngsters like Baker and Liriano to step in. Trading key pitching prospects just to keep Hunter for one or two more years could look awfully shortsighted just a ways down the road when not only Baker or Liriano but Hunter himself could be gone. Just trading Lohse and prospects also does little to solve the GM's budget flexibility problem. It might not be enough to set a true blockbuster trade in motion, either.
It's true to a point that Torii Hunter is generally one of the most productive bats in the Twins lineup, but that's a bit like having better than average vision in a School for the Blind. His offensive value measured by Runs Above Replacement-level rates 2nd on this year's team, but that's only because no regular but Joe Mauer is having even a decent season at the plate. Last year, Hunter was 3rd on the team measured by that value; but he could have been 5th, as he was in 2003, if Stewart and Morneau were with the club all season. Even in a weakling offense, Torii Hunter has been a supporting player the last few years.
Meanwhile, the team has a crying need for a masher, or at least a consistently productive hitter. You can generally count on Torii to put up something like his career numbers (.267/.321/.452). This year, he was hitting .269/.337/.452 through the end of July, when he broke his ankle. He'd also been putting us through his typical streakiness: a 783 OPS in April, 633 in May, 1.091 in June, and 664 in July. Is that the kind of performance the Twins should be happy to get for $10.75 million next year?
In New York, maybe the club lives with that. Just 25 HR, 90 RBI, and the occasional Spiderman catch could be all they require. Minnesota can't afford that expensive luxury. Terry Ryan needs better value for the dollar. Jim Souhan writes that trading Torii should net "three good or two great righthanded bats in return, or you're treading water." Come on. We're talking about an outfielder who, since 2001, has put up Equivalent Averages of .264, .291, .261, .276, and .280. It won't require Manny and David Ortiz together to replace that kind of production.
Souhan also cites the fear of the unknown as a reason to stay the course, as if we already hadn't been orbiting some ring of the Inferno watching this lineup struggle to score runs. Hey, even Terry Ryan could get burned like he did with Rick Reed and Todd Jones, he says, apparently forgetting that Reed did lead the rotation in 2002 with a 15-7, 3.78 mark in 188 innings, and that Reed struggled in 2003 mainly because he tried to pitch with a nagging back injury. Todd Jones also had a 3.26 ERA in his short term with the Twins, although his WHIP did stink. But what made that a poor trade was just that the club threw away Mark Redman when his stock had dipped because of arm trouble, in exchange for a two-month rental whose stock was riding low as well. It was a "change of scenery" deal, made to get rid of someone Tom Kelly didn't like, in exchange for a very limited gain. Trading Torii wouldn't be like that.
This is simply a potential opportunity to go get an experienced banger or a youngster with great upside by offering around a veteran player who may have great appeal to another club that won't sweat paying him $23 million over the next couple years. Meanwhile, trading Lohse and letting go of Stewart or Jones could also free up over $20 million for Terry Ryan to spend on trade acquisitions or some complimentary free agents. He should be able to find one great bat, or at least a couple upgrades on the ones we have, with that kind of flexibility. The possibilities of reshaping the roster through the trade market this winter could be very exciting. If the alternative is to stand pat, making just minor tweaks to this putrid lineup, I'm all for embracing fresh change.