The New York Yankees are probably going to look mighty different in 2013 than they did the last time we saw them in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. Brian Cashman has a lot on his plate this offseason.
But them being the Yankees, it's a good bet that they'll still have plenty of star power on their roster come Opening Day.
One of the stars the Bombers could go after this offseason is none other than nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter. He's free of the five-year contract he signed with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007, and the word from Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News is that the Yankees have some interest in acquiring him:
The Yankees have interest in Torii Hunter, a source said. Hunter is unlikely to get a qualifying offer, so he wouldn't cost a draft pick.— Mark Feinsand (@BloggingBombers) November 1, 2012
Hunter isn't getting any younger, as he's 37 now and will turn 38 next July. That may not sit all that well with Yankees fans who would prefer to see the team get younger, and there are a lot of those out there.
Nonetheless, Hunter would be a good fit for the Yankees. Here's why.
First of All, Here's Why This Makes Sense
Right field hasn't been an area of need for the Yankees in the last four seasons, as Nick Swisher held the position down with solid defense while posting an .850 OPS at the plate.
Odds are that Swisher is done in pinstripes. He's a free agent for the first time in his career, and the Yankees don't have much incentive to keep him for a couple of very good reasons.
Swisher didn't help his cause with the Yankees by going missing at the plate in the final few weeks of the regular season and in the postseason, posting a mere .469 OPS in eight games. Overall, Swisher has a .599 OPS over his last 22 postseason games, and that's a major issue in the eyes of a Yankees team that needs postseason performers more than any other organization in baseball.
Swisher's case is further complicated by the notion that he may not sign for anything less than what Jayson Werth got from the Washington Nationals in 2010, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Swisher will propose the idea, but the Yankees aren't about to give him anything close to a seven-year deal worth $126 million.
Heyman has reported that all the Yankees are likely to offer Swisher is a qualifying offer worth around $13.5 million for one year, but they know he won't actually accept it. All they're after is the compensatory draft pick that they'll get when Swisher signs elsewhere.
With Swisher surely out of the picture in The Bronx, one option for the Yankees would be to just re-sign Ichiro Suzuki to play right field. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Ichiro would love to return to the Yankees, and they may be able to retain him on a one-year deal worth $5-8 million.
This is where Hunter enters the picture.
By showing interest in Hunter, what the Yankees could really be doing is just trying to drive Ichiro's price tag down as much as they possibly can. It's either that, or they could legitimately view Hunter as a better option for their hole in right field who would be worth a little extra money.
It helps that Hunter is a couple years younger than the 39-year-old Ichiro. The tricky part, however, is that Hunter's age makes him a candidate for another multi-year offer, perhaps something like a two-year deal with an option for a third.
A deal like that would come with some risk due to Hunter's age, but he proved in 2012 that he still has plenty of gas left in his tank, hitting a career-high .313 with a career-high 132 OPS+.
Despite that, Hunter will have to take a pay cut from the $18 million salary he earned in 2012 no matter where he ends up. The Yankees could get away with cutting his salary in half to $9 million, but it's not hard to imagine them stretching things out to $10 or $11 million.
That's a lot more than the Yankees would have to pay Ichiro, but they could make it work. Swisher's $10.25 million salary is coming off the books, and the Yankees could clear a lot more payroll space by not-resigning Rafael Soriano now that he's a free agent after opting out of his deal on Wednesday.
It would be worth it for the Yankees to pay Hunter this kind of money because...
What Hunter Would Bring to the Table
We'll all remember Torii Hunter for his defense when he finally hangs up his spikes, but his bat will deserve some props as well. For the bulk of his career, Hunter has been an above-average hitter.
Hunter is a career .277/.335/.466 hitter, and an average season for him has consisted of 25 homers and around 90 RBI. He's posted an OPS over .800 eight times in his career, and he's topped 20 homers 10 times.
Hunter fell short of the 20-homer plateau in 2012, but that may have been more due to his home ballpark than anything else. Angel Stadium of Anaheim is never a good place to hit home runs, and this year, it rated as the 25th-worst home run haven in baseball, according to ESPN.com.
Away from Angel Stadium in 2012, Hunter hit nine homers and compiled a .467 slugging percentage in 65 games. If he were to play half his games at Yankee Stadium and many other games at the other hitter-friendly ballparks of the AL East, he would likely see his power numbers get a boost.
Not that Hunter needs to long ball to generate offense, mind you. He's coming off a year in which he hit .344 with runners in scoring position, and that should appeal to a Yankees team that struggled in RISP situations all season long in 2012.
The Yankees would gladly take Hunter's clutch hitting, and they'd also gladly take his glove out in right field. He's not the fielder he once was, but he's still better than the vast majority of right fielders out there.
Per FanGraphs, Hunter finished fourth among major league right fielders in 2012 with a UZR of 10.4. He finished third in Defensive Runs Saved at +15.
If the Yankees open the 2013 season with an outfield consisting of Brett Gardner in left, Curtis Granderson in center and Hunter in right, their outfield defense will go from being a weakness to being a pretty significant strength. Gardner and Hunter could both make life easier for Granderson, and goodness knows he needs as much help on defense as he can get.
As good as Hunter would look in right field for the Yankees, he'd look just as good batting in a very specific spot in their batting order.
How He Would Impact the Lineup
Throughout the bulk of his career, the majority of Hunter's at-bats have come in the middle of the lineup. All told, he's logged 5,528 plate appearances batting either fourth, fifth or sixth.
Hunter is still a good hitter, but he's not a middle-of-the-order guy anymore. The Angels figured this out in 2012, and they came up with a rather ingenious solution by having Hunter bat second for the majority of the season.
Hunter proved to be an excellent fit for the No. 2 hole, hitting .343 with an .854 OPS while racking up 69 RBI in only 85 games. He proved to be very adept at making things happen when Mike Trout got on base, either driving him in with extra-base hits or moving him along with crafty situational hitting.
The Yankees didn't have this kind of versatility in the second spot in their batting order in 2012. It was Curtis Granderson's spot for much of the season, and he's largely to blame for the fact that the No. 2 hole in Joe Girardi's lineup produced more strikeouts than any other spot in the lineup.
Girardi did ultimately find a good solution when he slotted Ichiro in the No. 2 spot in the lineup at the end of the season and in the playoffs. If Ichiro returns to the Yankees, they could live with him batting second without any complaints.
Ichiro, however, has neither Hunter's power nor Hunter's patience. Hunter wasn't a good on-base guy earlier in his career, but he's posted OBPs over .350 in three of the last four seasons. Ichiro hasn't posted an OBP over .350 in 2010, when he was still very much capable of hitting well over .300 for a full season.
Hunter's power and patience would fit well in the lineup behind Derek Jeter and in front of either Robinson Cano or Mark Teixeira. His presence in the lineup would also allow Girardi to continue to bat Granderson lower in the order where his strikeouts wouldn't hurt as much.
The Yankees could win with a lineup like that, and they surely would win with a lineup like that. The rest of the AL East could only try and stop them.
Speaking of which...
How He Would Impact the Yankees' Standing in the AL East
Had we known that the Boston Red Sox were going to fall off the face of the earth in 2012, the logical conclusion to draw would have been that the Yankees would win the AL East in a breeze.
Instead, they darn near let the division title fall into the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. Baseball is weird like that.
The Orioles should be back in 2013. They have a solid core of players in their prime like Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters, and they could get great seasons out of young studs Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy. Their starting rotation could be an adventure again, but things will be fine if Jim Johnson and the club's relievers are as good next season as they were in 2012.
The Yankees also have to worry about doing battle with the Tampa Bay Rays. Their roster won't look all that impressive come Opening Day, but they're bound to have a very strong pitching staff and they'll still have Evan Longoria at third base. If he stays healthy and the club's pitching holds up, the Rays will be a 90-win team.
The Yankees have many moves to make in order to at least remain on par with the Orioles and Rays. Signing Hunter would be a big step in the right direction, though, as his offensive and defensive contributions could make him an even more valuable cog than Nick Swisher was in 2012 or any of the previous three seasons.
If the Yankees can at least be on par with the Orioles and Rays, they won't have to worry too much about the Red Sox or the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox could bring in some quality talent this winter, but they'll still have to overachieve in order to contend for the AL East title in 2013. The Blue Jays have some good power in their lineup and some quality young pitchers, but they have a lot of work to do before they're a complete team.
It feels like the Yankees are getting older and more feeble every year, but Father Time hasn't overwhelmed them quite yet. Penciling them in for 95 wins is a good rule of thumb every year, and that's what I'll be expecting from the Yankees if they sign Hunter and fill out the rest of their roster with quality major leaguers.
As for how signing Hunter would impact the Yankees long-term...
How His Contract Would Impact Payroll and Future Spending
Payrolls north of $200 million have become par for the course for the Yankees over the last few years, but everyone and their uncle knows that the Yankees want to be under $189 million by 2014.
The Yankees won't have to worry about their 2014 payroll if they're able to sign Hunter for one year, as indications are that they're going to operate without too many restrictions in regards to their 2013 payroll. Just so long as they're under $189 million in 2014, whatever happens in 2013 is A-OK.
This is why the Yankees potentially signing Hunter to a multi-year deal is somewhat problematic. The last thing they want at this point are sizable salaries committed for 2014 and beyond, as they already have a couple on hand and could have a couple more on hand depending on what they do with in-house extension candidates.
One is Curtis Granderson, but it seems doubtful that he'll be extended beyond 2013. He'll make $15 million next season and will then probably try his luck on the open market. He's only ending up back with the Yankees if he reverts back to where he was in 2010, and that seems unlikely seeing as how his 2010 season was an outlier year.
Robinson Cano is a different story. He will also make $15 million in 2013, and Joel Sherman wrote recently that it could take as many as 10 years and as much as $200 million for the Yankees to extend Cano.
If the Yankees commit $20 million to Cano for 2014 and beyond, they'll find themselves with four players making at least $20 million per season, as Cano would join Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.
The Yankees would thus have roughly half of their planned payroll of $189 for 2014 invested in four players. To put it lightly, that would make filling out the rest of the roster pretty tough.
Add in the $17 million Derek Jeter could make in 2014, and things get even tougher. Add in a $9-11 million salary for Hunter, and things would get very tough.
Brian Cashman could conceivably build a winning team even despite having over $100 million invested in only six players, but he wouldn't be able to do it without cutting corners. The Yankees could consist of several core stars and not much else, making them not unlike this year's Detroit Tigers team.
None of this is to say that signing Hunter to anything more than a one-year deal can't be done. It most certainly can be done. The point is that it would make Cano's situation, the 2014 payroll situation and surely many other situations that much more complicated.
But as they say, where there's a will, there's a way. And if I didn't know any better, I'd say Cashman has that saying tattooed somewhere. He's had his not-so-good moments, but he has a way of mixing, matching, tweaking and tinkering just enough to keep the Yankees afloat each and every year.
He could make signing Hunter to a multi-year deal work. And if the 2012 season is a sign of things to come for Hunter, he'd be worth it.
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