Torii Hunter is having his worst offensive season in over a decade and his defense is getting to be damn nigh intolerable. He now has a tight hamstring that has kept him out of action for he past eight days. J.D. Martinez, his replacement in right field, was just named the A.L. Player of the Week.
The writing is, therefore, on the wall. And Torii Hunter is reading it. From Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press, who writes about what will happen now that it appears Hunter is poised to come back to action:
“I will do whatever is best for the team. We’re back to hitting the right groove right now, firing on all cylinders. If that means I have to split time in the field — if that’s in the best interest to help us win — then I’m fine with that. When you get to this point in your career, it becomes a lot easier figuring out what’s most important to you. I want to win.”
When it comes to on-the-field stuff at least, Hunter has always said and done the right things. He moved off of center field in Anaheim when it was clear the Peter Bourjos was better than him defensively. He does not have a history of complaining about where he hits in the lineup or plays in the field. Of course, until this year he hasn’t been faced with a lot of those situations given that he’s been one of the more productive and durable outfielders in all of baseball.
But now things are different. Hunter turns 39 next month and it’s likely that this year’s dip in performance is the new normal, not some temporary slump. He can certainly still be useful to a contender like the Tigers, but Brad Ausmus will have to give him rest and pick his spots in which to play him. Maybe way more against lefties, for example.
Interesting times for a guy who, as recently as last year, was still putting up pretty darn good numbers. Now we’ll see how he takes to a reduced role.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.