Free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter said Monday in an appearance on the MLB Network that he’d like to make a decision on his future soon. On the surface, the Dodgers appear to be a bad fit. Left fielder Carl Crawford is expected to be healthy on opening day after having Tommy John surgery in August. Center fielder Matt Kemp should be ready following his shoulder procedure in September. Andre Ethier is healthy and entrenched in right field, and general manager Ned Colletti said Monday that he hasn’t talked to any teams about trading Ethier.
For Hunter, who can play both center and left — and did so while hitting .313/.365/.451 over 140 games last season in Anaheim — Dodger Stadium looks like a bad place to ply your trade.
But rumors gained steam last week when the Dodgers talked to Hunter’s agent at the GM meetings. There was no word how far those talks got, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point Hunter broached the subject with his pal, Kemp, too. Hunter lives in Southern California and plans stay once he retires. At age 37, that probably isn’t too far off.
Colletti has stated his interest in acquiring someone who can back up Kemp in center field — so why not Hunter? It’s not as if the Dodgers can’t afford him.
There’s one problem with that, manager Don Mattingly said Monday.
“You can’t throw all these players on your roster and say, ‘make it work.’ Guys aren’t happy like that,” Mattingly said. “That fourth outfielder, I want him to be a guy that if he plays twice a week, he’s excited as hell.”
Hunter has said he’s not ready for that kind of role and plenty of teams — the Tigers appear to be the latest front-runners, according to reports Tuesday — would be willing to play him (and pay him) like a starter.
Hunter may be the sexiest name on the market, but the Dodgers might buck their recent trend and go for a center fielder who isn’t at the top of any team’s winter wish list. Mattingly cited the examples of Jamey Carroll, Aaron Miles, Jerry Hairston Jr., Luis Cruz and Elian Herrera as players who were content with reduced roles in seasons past.
“They’re happy to be here; ‘I understand what my role is.’ ” Mattingly said.
If they go the free-agent route, the Dodgers could target Nyjer Morgan, a veteran off-and-on starter who has plus speed and range, and occasionally hits for average. He’s coming off a down season in Milwaukee. Tony Gwynn Jr. fits a similar profile, and both Colletti and Mattingly are quick to say that Gwynn is “still part of the organization” after being demoted to Triple-A late last season.
Regardless, this isn’t an area of priority. Colletti said that he’s spent most of his time so far targeting pitching.
Hunter will probably get some good offers in the coming weeks, and by December he’ll be off the market. The Dodgers? Maybe fun to think about, but not meant to be.