In the midst of all the fun over the posting of Hyun-Jin Ryu and reported Dodger interest in Kevin Youkilis, now there’s this: the Dodgers are also interested in Torii Hunter, and may in fact have already offered him a two-year contract, which now frees them up to trade Andre Ethier & Juan Uribe to Seattle for Felix Hernandez & Dustin Ackley & Taijuan Walker & the 1994 version of Ken Griffey, Jr. and a big basket of puppies, and…
…and let’s just stop right there and try to regain some perspective.
We’ll return to Hunter in a second, but with the offseason rumor mill already working at hyper-speed it’s important to step back and remember the rules of the road here. Hearing that “team X checked in on player Y” should barely even be reason to stop what you’re doing. Every team makes contact with every player they have even the vaguest interest in, because if they don’t, they’re not doing their job. Yes, the Dodgers checked in on Hunter. And Zack Greinke. And Anibal Sanchez. And Kyle Lohse. And Dan Haren, and just about everyone else. It’s the way things work. As Ken Rosenthal noted, at least ten teams have made contact with Hunter. Just because the Dodgers were one of them doesn’t suddenly mean Ethier is being traded, and Dylan Hernandez checked in to say that Hunter’s agent actually approached the Dodgers; I’ve verified independently that a contract was never offered, and Hunter himself confirmed that.
Nor, it should be noted, does this suddenly make Ethier a trade candidate. I know, I know: most of you don’t like his contract. While I was hardly a huge fan of it, the simple fact of the matter is that the team doesn’t view it as a bad contract, especially because this isn’t a leftover from the McCourt years, this was signed with the new regime in charge. Ethier’s done nothing since then to change our fundamental understanding of what he is, which is a fan favorite who murders righties, cannot hit lefties, and gets his share of bumps & bruises.
If you think that a team like Tampa is dying to pick up that contract and send back James Shields in return, think again; that’s just now how it works. Besides, I’ve long contended that if you simply stop forcing him to hit lefties, his numbers will skyrocket. While “platoon outfielder” may not be optimal for that amount of money, I doubt anyone’s complaining if he hits .300/.350/.500 next year facing mainly righty pitching.
Anyway, back to Hunter. While it’s very unlikely that he’d join a crowded Dodger outfield, since he’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career and likely wants a guaranteed starting job, the appeal here is obvious. The Dodgers clearly need A) an insurance policy for Carl Crawford in left, B) someone on the roster who can handle center now & then to keep Matt Kemp fresh, and C) a righty bat to make sure Ethier really can skip most lefties. Hunter is a perfect fit for each of those roles, he owns a home in Newport Beach, is good friends with both Kemp and Crawford, and after 16 years in the game, still hasn’t made it to the World Series. He’s not going to repeat his 2012, of course – helloooo .389 BABIP and declining K% & BB% rates – and at 37, there’s obvious risk of aging at a “guy who chooses poorly at the end of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade” rate, which makes him more suited for a role in which he may not need to play every day.
So if you can convince Hunter that ~400 plate appearances for a good team with his friends is better than ~600 plate appearances guaranteed elsewhere, it’s a hole that needs filling. If not, I won’t shed a lot of tears that some other team gave a multi-year deal to a 37-year-old coming off an unsustainable season.
Either way, it’s almost certainly not a precursor to an Ethier trade, nor should it be; if Ethier is used properly, he’s all but guaranteed to be a more valuable player over the next several years. But considering what we’ve heard in the last hour or so that the Dodger interest in Hunter isn’t anywhere near what it was originally reported, it’s a good reminder of how crazy things can get this time of year.