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Mariners Rumors: Torii Hunter

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The Mariners and Torii Hunter have been linked in a number of rumors recently. It probably means nothing but it could mean something.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, the big news yesterday was the signing of Nelson Cruz. Soon after that news broke, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweeted that the Mariners were planning on using Cruz as their designated hitter and that the team is still in the market for offensive upgrades.

So, the Mariners are still looking for an outfielder and there happens to be a right-handed outfielder who has been the subject of a bunch of rumors recently, Torii Hunter. This isn't anything new as there have been rumors linking the Mariners to Hunter earlier this offseason. This weekend, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Mariners were one of four teams Hunter is considering - the Rangers, Orioles, and Twins were the other three teams. Ken Rosenthal later added the Royals to that mix. I'm not sure if the Cruz signing makes any difference to Hunter -- he's stated that he wants to play for a "contender" -- but the Mariners are interested, or they were interested in the recent past.

On the surface, Torii Hunter doesn't really make sense for the Mariners anymore. He's right-handed and an outfielder -- those are the two obvious deficiencies on the Mariners' roster -- but he really shouldn't be thought of as an outfielder. But, here we are with another rumor that's just a little more specific than before. It probably means nothing but it could mean something. Let's see how the Mariners and Torii Hunter could match up.

The Profile

Torii Hunter is 39 and will turn 40 midway through next year. Mariner fans should be pretty familiar with him as he's spent his entire career in the American League - first as a Twin, then as an Angel, and most recently as a Tiger. He was a Gold Glove center fielder early in his career but age has forced him to right field where he's played regularly since 2010. The advanced defensive metrics agree that Hunter will probably be a liability in the field - both UZR and DRS rated -18 for his efforts in 2014.

The Mariners won't be acquiring Hunter for his fielding; they'll be looking for a steady presence in the middle of their batting order. The Mariners might not get that either. Yes, Hunter has averaged a 120 wRC+ over the last five years and his average ISO has been a consistent .162 but look at his walk rate over the same period:

Year BB%
2010 9.4%
2011 9.6%
2012 6.5%
2013 4.0%
2014 3.9%

That's a pretty steep decline. As you could imagine, his plate discipline stats aren't pretty. He's swinging more often at pitches both inside and outside the zone yet he's been able to maintain his whiff rate around 11% and actually lowered his overall strikeout rate to 15% in 2014. That reduction in strikeout rate probably has to do with Hunter's ability to make contact at the plate - something that runs against the norm as far as hitter aging curves go.

Over his career, Hunter has been remarkably durable and there's no reason to expect his body to suddenly break down. Still, there aren't many 40-year-olds playing baseball and injury risk only increases as a player advances in age. Hunter is also known to be a positive influence in the clubhouse and a team leader. While they're unquantifiable, those intangibles won't be ignored by the Mariners if they decide to pursue him in earnest.

The Projection

2015 Steamer Projection - Torii Hunter

AB

HR

ISO

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

WAR

533

14

.140

.275

.320

.415

107

1.1

Steamer projects a moderate decline from Torii Hunter in 2015. There aren't many 40-year-olds who have hit at an above average clip and Steamer recognizes this. Getting 1.0 WAR out of Hunter is probably the best-case scenario next year and that assumes he spends most of his time in the outfield.

The Cost

Torii Hunter will be looking to sign one of his last contracts as a professional, if not the very last one. The FanGraphs crowd expects him to sign a one-year deal worth around $10 million while MLB Trade Rumors adds an extra year and a few extra million dollars. Two years is probably the maximum length he'll receive and, depending on how he thinks his body will hold up, would likely be the last contract of his career. A one-year contract gives him and the signing team a bit more flexibility but it would probably come with a bit of a premium as far as cost is concerned. Michael Cuddyer's two-year contract with the Mets is a pretty good comparison for the average annual value of a deal Hunter might sign.

The Fit

With the addition of Nelson Cruz, the Mariners' roster situation has been given a bit more clarity. A right-handed batter isn't as much of a need anymore and the gaping hole at designated hitter has been filled. The Mariners are still looking to add an outfielder, probably a right fielder who could take Saunders' spot on the roster. (Despite all of our cries to keep Saunders, I think it's a safe bet that he won't be a Mariner come Spring Training.) A few years ago, Hunter could have fit that role and been very successful. Now that he's 39, it's a long shot that he'd return anywhere near the kind of value that a $10 million contract would demand.

Torii Hunter just isn't a feasible option in the field anymore and the team who signs him to be an everyday right fielder would be pretty foolish. While Hunter might have made a little bit of sense as an option at designated hitter for the Mariners, Nelson Cruz changes everything. I'm hoping we can call this rumor dead and let someone else take on Hunter.