Torii's intangibles would be missed in Anaheim
ANAHEIM -- By not making an offer on Friday to Torii Hunter and in essence waving adios, the Angels are venturing into uncharted waters.
It is impossible, having spent the past five seasons observing his influence on teammates, fans and media to measure the value Hunter brought to this organization given that so much of it was in the area of intangibles. Numbers do not apply.
By not extending a $13.3 million qualifying offer to their right fielder and second most valuable player in 2012 after Mike Trout, the Angels apparently are creating full-time work for Peter Bourjos in center field, with Trout shifting to left and Mark Trumbo to right in the blueprints. Vernon Wells figures in this picture as an expensive fourth outfielder, capable of effectively handling all three positions defensively and serving as a DH against lefties.
If this is, in fact, the plan, it's good news for Bourjos fans, and there are many out there. He's a big-time talent, an athlete who deserves to play somewhere on a daily basis. He showed that in 2011 when he had the third-highest slugging percentage on the club while playing Gold Glove center field on a regular basis.
What Bourjos needs to flourish is the full support of his manager, Mike Scioscia, and the coaching staff. They can't put him through another season of playing once or twice a week and expect him to take advantage of his phenomenal natural gifts.
A confident, trusted Bourjos can hit first or second, freeing Trout for the move to the No. 3 hole. This would enable New Jersey's gift to the Angels to fully exploit his gifts as a power hitter and run-producer by providing him the freedom to swing at more first-pitch fastballs. This is often the best pitch a hitter will see in an at-bat. Hitting third, Trout is capable of racking up Miguel Cabrera-type numbers.
There's a reason why the best hitters generally hit third. That freedom to swing early in counts was the big advantage Cabrera had over Trout, who, keenly aware of his role as a leadoff man, swung at just 9.4 percent of first pitches. Only five players in the Majors took a hack less often at the first serve.
A move to left can be advantageous, physically, for Trout, even though he thinks of himself as a center fielder and is one of the three best you'll see, along with Bourjos and Detroit's Austin Jackson. In left, Trout would expend less energy and run into fewer walls in pursuit of extra-base hits, taking an element of high risk out of his game. He can let Bourjos do that.
As for the bad news for Angels fans -- that's painfully obvious. Hunter's leadership will be sorely missed. He was the master motivator and clubhouse unifier, with a feel for bringing everyone together. Hunter has mastered that role, much as Reds manager Dusty Baker did as a player before moving on to a highly successful managerial career.
Hunter will make somebody somewhere very happy. Angels fans are hoping it's not Texas. Coming off a heartbreaking 2011 and frustrating 2012 season, the Rangers are in need of the brand of positive energy Hunter brings on an everyday basis. Texas has to be aware of the potential impact Torii can have on the field -- in center or right, batting anywhere from second to sixth -- and off the field.
Hunter is such an exceptional person, he never thought twice about making the move to right field to accommodate Bourjos in 2011. He took everything he knew about the game to both Bourjos and Trout -- kids he understood might eventually lead management to view him as a luxury item. That is what has happened, it appears.
You'd be surprised how few players, in his position, would have had the generosity of spirit to teach Bourjos and Trout the way Hunter did, from Day 1.
You know who will really miss Hunter? Albert Pujols. With Torii taking on the lion's share of the media attention, Pujols was able to do his daily pregame routine without a hitch. Pujols was free, thanks to Hunter, to deal with the media on his terms, when he felt so inclined. With no Hunter to handle all the microphones and notepads in his popular corner, someone will have to fill that void.
It's a little too much to ask of Trumbo -- who has the ability to do it, but is still focused on finding his niche -- or any other individual. It will be a team responsibility now. Pujols will have to pitch in, like everyone else.
That might not seem like such a big deal, but it's important to have someone there, at his locker, to take the media's inquiries after a tough loss. Hunter always stood tall and handled it, bringing perspective and humor to any situation. Teammate Chone Figgins used to call him "Obama," a reference to Torii's remarkable ability to take care of business in a deft, presidential fashion. He was the unofficial club spokesman for a reason.
It's hard to imagine the Angels without him. Hunter was as good as it gets in Anaheim. Fans should thank him and wish him all the best wherever he lands -- unless, of course, it's Texas, on those occasions when the Rangers are facing the Angels.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.