For nearly a decade, Torii Hunter's Metrodome kingdom stretched where the infield dirt ended and 10 feet above the 408 marker in center field.
But when Hunter's contract with the Minnesota Twins ended in 2007, Hunter headed west to roam the outfield at Angel Stadium.
Now, five years later, Hunter's contract has expired again, and the 37-year-old is set to test the free agent market again. But is there a chance that the nine-time Gold Glove winner could return to Minnesota?
A lot has changed since Hunter was a Twin. The Twins have traded their Teflon sky for warm Minnesota sunshine, ownership passed from father to son when Carl Pohlad passed away in 2009 and only four former-teammates of Hunter's are still with the team: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Glen Perkins, and Scott Baker.
Over nine full seasons with the Twins from 1999-2007, Hunter hit .271 with 192 home runs, 709 RBI and 126 stolen bases along with a .469 slugging percentage, as well as seven of his nine Gold Glove awards.
But is it possible that Spiderman could add to those numbers?
In the Star Tribune last May, Hunter expressed some interest in finishing his career with the Twins, if he doesn't resign with the Angels:
"If it comes down to that—if we don't get anything done with the Angels, and they don't need me here or whatever—then yes, it's something I would consider...It's as simple as that."
A 16-year MLB veteran, Hunter is still looking to get to the World Series, after coming up short twice in the ALCS in 2002 with the Twins and 2009 with the Angels. Hunter will likely want to sign with a contender. So, barring some sort of Baltimore Orioles turnaround in 2013, Minneapolis won't be the first destination on Hunter's list.
But there are a number of different reasons why the Twins should try luring Hunter back to the Twin Cities.
He Can Still Play
Yeah, he may have lost a step defensively, but bringing in a veteran like Hunter would certainly help out the Twins, who have lost 195 games the last two seasons. Many people thought Hunter's career would be over at the end of the five-year contract he signed with the Angels. However, Hunter hit 16 home runs and knocked in 92 runs, while batting .313—it was the first time in his career that he hit over .300 in his career.
He's a Mentor to Young Players
The following excerpts are from Torii Hunter's MLBlog, Torii's Storiis:
"When I started out in Minnesota, I had guys like Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack to show me things. Now I can do that with Peter (Bourjous) like I did with Denard Span while I was still with the Twins. Now he’s playing some good center field."
"Now that I’ve moved from the artificial turf in Minnesota to the natural surface, God’s green grass, in Southern California with the Angels. It makes a huge difference over the course of the season. I used to feel so beat up playing on that carpet. I’m really happy for the young Twins like my protege Denard Span, who won’t have to go through what I did, and what Kirby Puckett went through playing center field on that hard turf."
Hunter has a positive impact on young players, and is a coach-in-uniform. Not only is current Twins center fielder Denard Span his protege, but Hunter has also taken Angels players Peter Bourjous, Mark Trumbo and eventual Rookie of the Year Mike Trout under his wing. The Twins could use that with young outfielders Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia.
That being said, in a rebuilding situation with a ton of prospects, the Twins would likely prefer to spend the $16 million on a two-year contract that Hunter could demand on starting pitching, which has been abysmal for the Twins the previous two seasons.
It Would Put Fans in the Seats
Remember when the Twins brought Eddie Guardado back in 2008? Although Guardado was terrible (1-1, 7.71 ERA), it was fun to see Everyday Eddie back in a Twins uniform. With Carl Pavano gone, Hunter's familiar 48 is available—and seeing Hunter patrol the outfield at Target Field would be a smart financial move for the Pohlad family to make.
So, should the Twins have interest in bringing Hunter back? There are definitely more pressing needs on the roster than adding another outfielder to the mix (i.e. pitching, middle infielders). And if Twins fans are looking for Metrodome nostalgia, why not re-sign free agents AJ Pierzynski or JC Romero? Hunter has one more year of competitive ball left in the tank and can help the Twins win.
Hunter has also expressed interest in playing for the Texas Rangers, who will have an outfield spot opening up if Josh Hamilton elects to sign elsewhere.
If the Twins can make a few moves to bring in some pitching this winter and become a contender in 2013, there may be a fit. With Hunter likely to start in right field, that would mean the team would have to seriously entertain trading Josh Willingham or Denard Span (who is always trade bait at the deadline) this winter.
There were reports last July that the Cincinnati Reds were offering top prospect Tony Cingrani (13-6, 1.72 in minors) for Span, but the Twins wanted a proven MLB pitcher in return for Span.
Torii's would love to play in Los Angeles next season, especially with L.A. expected to build off 2012 and compete for a title next season. But if the Angels feel like they no longer need his services, expect the Twins to call.
"Of course I'd consider Minnesota. That's my home."