Baseball is a sport that rewards the heart and soul of a player’s determination, perhaps more than any other sport. A good example would be the old Angels favorite, shortstop David Eckstein, not the most talented player in the world but he simply wanted the team to win and he would do anything to help that cause, whether it be with a bunt single, a sacrifice play or a more literal sacrifice in crowding the plate to get a free base. Another could be the man who caught the last out of the Angels’ only World Series Championship so far, outfielder Darin Erstad. Erstad was known for going “all out” in the outfield and I don’t recall ever seeing a game where his jersey didn’t show just how much effort he truly put out there.
Thankfully for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, they have a veteran in All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter who is very similar to the Angels of old, the Angels who led the team to previously unseen heights.
Unfortunately for the fans, these days, there’s got to be 50 ways to leave a team. Hunter is currently scheduled to be a free agent after this season and although the team is downplaying that fact due to their ongoing playoff aspirations, it has been on the minds of many fans. Since Hunter arrived to the team in 2008 replacing one of the most disappointing players and worst contracts in baseball history in Gary Matthews Jr., he has been the team’s leader and at the same time, one of the team’s best producers on offense and defense. In the four seasons that have passed, the team has obtained a few of the most promising young outfielders (may it be due to their bat, glove or a combination of both) in all of baseball, Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo and of course, 2012’s potential American League MVP, Mike Trout. The Angels have quite the crowded outfield situation now and with former All-Star Vernon Wells on the bench with an extremely loaded contract, it may come down to ignoring some factors.
For a baseball team to be taken seriously and win as many games as possible, the money you’re putting into each individual player has to be ignored, for the most part. Some teams aren’t able to do this as they’re incredibly limited in how much money they have to spend on players but as we all know, the Angels are not limited in player salaries, as the contracts given to Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson in the offseason prove viciously. Vernon Wells may have a huge contract that seems like a giant waste on the bench but at the end of the day, wins and losses are what matter and if you’ve got an organization with its head on straight, the money won’t matter. That’s the thing with Hunter, he’s the leader of this team and if he were to leave, you’re possibly creating a team that could run into some very serious problems.
As an example, look at the other “Los Angeles” team, the Dodgers. With the team being sold to a group that has almost unlimited funds, they’ve picked up a strategy of trading for players who have large contracts and it seems like they’re trying to build an All-Star team, reminiscent of the New York Yankees. Well, that plan hasn’t worked and last night, the San Francisco Giants clinched the NL West, convincingly. The problem with the Dodgers can’t be attributed to any single glaring oddity, only a question of chemistry and how pulling a team together can’t be by buying the most expensive players available. Some may say that is what the Angels did in the offseason but at the very core of the team, this is a team that has brought itself success through the farm system and educated signings, not throwing money left and right to everyone. A team is only as mentally strong and hungry as their leader and if you want to have a team that wants it more than anyone else, is there anyone better than Torii Hunter to lead them?
Sure, you could let Hunter leave and replace him in the outfield with Peter Bourjos or Vernon Wells but both of those ideas are risky, at best. Wells and Bourjos simply can’t perform like Hunter can on the offensive side of the ball and defensively, it would be excruciatingly tough to find a better man for the right field job than Hunter at this point. Wells is only on the team still because of his contract and Bourjos, although extremely talented, is not on the same level as the 15 year veteran and could learn the game from Hunter to set the Angels up for the future.
I doubt the money given to Hunter would be the problem and even though Hunter is 37 years old, he sure hasn’t shown his age this season. He’s having a Gold Glove caliber year in right field and in the second half of this season; you can make a very solid case for him being the reason that the team is as close as they are to a Wild Card spot. Without Hunter, this team simply isn’t where it is now, possibly making the playoffs.
There’s still hope left in this season and while Torii Hunter may not be an Angel next season, it would be incredibly wise of the team to resign him and let him eventually get what he came to Anaheim for, his first World Series Championship. He has said he would like to retire as an Angel and it is a rare sight to see a team have a veteran who is getting older but at the same time, he’s still incredibly valuable to their winning ways. Situations like this don’t come by very often. If the Angels hope to have a second title to add to their gold cabinet, Hunter should be with them for it, for the benefit of himself and the organization.