Yesterday we reviewed the seven-year stop in Anaheim of Rod Carew, the eighth-greatest Angels acquisition.
Today, however, is the SEVENTH-greatest Angels acquisition ever, and it's one who certainly changed the clubhouse dynamic to something almost unprecedented for the franchise.
The date? Thanksgiving 2007. Angels fans are still cringing from the horrific experiment that was the Gary Matthews, Jr. contract, which did not pay many dividends in 2007, let alone any other year he spent here. Bill Stoneman is gone, and Tony Reagins is in. Days earlier, he acquired Jon Garland (who received no votes; funny what happens when your ERA is almost 5) for fan favorite shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Trading away a fan favorite doesn't do well for your rep as a GM when you first appear on the scene. But Tony taketh away, so Tony giveth. Shortly after the trade, Tony, out of nowhere, sat down at the Del Taco down the road with this player and his agent with a pen and some paperwork. Whilst downing Double Dels and spicy chicken burritos, this player inked a five-year, $90 million contract--then the richest in franchise history--to be the team's new center fielder. To the bench was GMJ. To the field...Torii Kedar Hunter.
TORII HUNTER, OUTFIELDER
.286/.352/.462, 768 H, 105 HR, 432 RBI, 147 2B, 122 OPS+, 19.7 WAR (3.9 average, 5 seasons)
His arrival created a welcome logjam, as Gary Matthews, Jr. and Reggie Willits, starters in 2007, were now the 4th and 5th outfielders in 2008. Hunter came in, flanked on either side by Juan Rivera and Vladimir Guerrero, to create one of baseball's better offensive outfields. Hunter made his presence with the boomstick almost immediately, hitting a walkoff grand slam over Cleveland after just a week in an Angels uniform. He had an overall decent first season, hitting .278 with 21 HR and 19 stolen bases. His 2009, however, were it not for a groin injury, would likely have been an MVP-type season.
Injuries limited Torii Hunter's 2009 to just 119 games, but before his injury he was hitting .306/.384/.576 with 17 HR and 57 RBI, and on pace to slam 37 HR and 125 RBI. However, a groin injury all but shut down his July, and though he returned to form when he came back in August, he had a paltry September hitting .254/.303/.368 that weighed down his season totals. No MVP votes, but he did receive a Gold Glove AND his first Silver Slugger, as well as his first All-Star appearance as an Angel.
Another typical Torii season in 2010 netted him another All-Star appearance, although this season was more significant for his voluntary shift to right field in August so that Peter Bourjos could play every day. And after a down 2011, one could only wonder if he'd lost his touch as an Angel, and would be left to be a Nyjer Morgan type player: substandard play with a nonstop mouth.
However, this would NOT be the case. Torii's status as a clubhouse leader remained intact--even through personal troubles involving rape allegations against his son--and hitting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols got Hunter a CAREER season, hitting .313/.365/.451 with an insane BABIP.
His unceremonious release after the season led to him jumping ship to the Tigers, where he'll have similarly misleading seasons like 2012 hitting between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera. Not to say he's not capable of that play regardless; Hunter is a fantastic player whose skill set was much appreciated as an Angel. What made him such a valuable asset, however, was his status as the team's clubhouse leader.
Tough loss? Talk to Torii, he'll give you the quote you're looking for. Need a good sound byte? Torii's got it. 2009 ALCS start off crappy? Torii yells at the entire team to "grow some balls" and "do it for Nick." He was unabashed in telling it like it was, and he was always good for an interview and for an explanation for ANYTHING.
In voting, Hunter received one second-place vote, one third-place vote, two fourth-place votes, two fifth-place votes, two sixth-place votes, one seventh-place vote, three eighth-place votes, and one ninth-place vote, for a total of 68 points.
To a man who brought tangibles and intangibles to the team in an unprecedented proportion, I say thank you for your service. I doubt Tommy Hanson will do #48 justice like you did.