MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — Torii Hunter is coming back to the place it all began.
Hunter agreed to a $10.5 million, one-year contract to return to the Minnesota Twins, a person with knowledge of the agreement told WCCO’s Mike Max.
A five-time All-Star outfielder who turns 40 in July, Hunter became a star with the Twins from 1997-07 before signing a $90 million, five-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels. He then signed a $26 million, two-year deal with Detroit.
“Congrats on @toriihunter48 going back home,” tweeted Nationals outfielder Denard Span, a former Twins center fielder who was mentored by Hunter at the start of his career.
His agreement was first reported by USA Today.
Even though Hunter has been gone for seven years, he always has had a special place in his heart for the organization that groomed him from an 18-year-old first-round draft pick in 1993 into one of the best defensive players of his generation. On trips back to Minnesota to play the Twins with the Angels and Tigers, Hunter always spoke fondly of his time with the Twins and was open to finishing his career at Target Field, the team’s jewel of a ballpark that opened a few years after he left the Metrodome for Los Angeles.
Now he’s going to get that chance.
In his second tour with the Twins, Hunter will be heavily relied upon to be the kind of hard-driving veteran a young clubhouse needs to set an example. The Twins have lost at least 92 games in each of the last four seasons, and the lack of leadership was a big concern for the front office and new manager Paul Molitor.
During his first run with the Twins, Hunter was a vocal pillar in the clubhouse, and the team adopted his fiery mentality. He challenged teammates when he thought they were not competing, served as a team spokesman when results were poor and, most importantly, won seven of his nine Gold Gloves while providing consistent production in the middle of the Twins order.
“It will be a honor to play alongside my hero growing up,” Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks tweeted.
Hunter isn’t the same defensive dynamo he was when he left for the big payday with the Angels, but he can still swing the bat. Last season he hit .286 with 17 homers and 83 RBIs for the Tigers, numbers comparable to the two seasons before then, as well. Last season Trevor Plouffe led the Twins with 80 RBIs.
His salary with Minnesota matches the average of former Twin Michael Cuddyer in his $21 million, two-year deal with the New York Mets.
Hunter will be slotted into the everyday lineup as a right fielder and perhaps an occasional designated hitter, providing a bridge to a group of highly anticipated prospects that include prized center fielder Byron Buxton, considered by many in the organization to be the next Hunter. Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano are among the other young players who could benefit from Hunter’s presence.
When Molitor took over for the fired Ron Gardenhire as manager, he spoke about the need for a strong-willed group of veterans to show the youngsters how to play the right way. Molitor did the same thing for the Twins in the final two seasons of his career, which overlapped with Hunter’s first two seasons in a Twins uniform.
Hunter’s return also figures to help out Joe Mauer, the face of the franchise who has always preferred to lead by example and has never been comfortable with speaking up and holding teammates accountable.
Now Hunter is back to take up that responsibility, and he has the resume, the paycheck and the on-field skills to pull it off.
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