After Thursday night, the Angels had played 81 games. With the season half over, the team is also exactly halfway through the five-year, $90 Million contract of All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter. He turns 35 on July 18, but has shown to be a durable and productive elder statesman and teammate.
Have the Angels gotten their money's worth? Let's see...
Is he a team leader? YES.
Any observer of the dugout and clubhouse sees Hunter as the team leader. He has been vocal and central in the occasional bench-clearing brawl while his bat and glove earn the respect of his teammates.
As the team's top salaried player, is he the face of the franchise? YES.
Hunter's off-field personable demeanor goes over well with southern California fans. He always has a memorable quote, smiles warmly and gives good interview, making sure to share any and all credit with his teammates. After years of Vladimir Guerrero's Sphinx-like silence, thirty seconds of Hunter at the postgame mic brings out the little leaguer in all of us.
Has he established himself as an All-Time Angels Great? YES.
Hunter's highlight-reel catches at and over the wall are the all time calling cards that will be replayed when his Angels tenure is discussed. He did run too heavily into too many walls last season in too short a span of time. He has played it safer in the field in 2010, although he is well beyond adequate for the needs of this Angels pitching staff.
In addition to his regular season offensive output, his three-run HR off of John Lester in Game 1 of 2009 ALDS was the first slice through the curse of the Red Sox that the Angels had endured in the playoffs 4 times counting 1986. Perhaps the biggest hit of the Angels '09 season, it is his top Plate Appearance as an Angel and one of the great Angels postseason moments.
How about the Hardware? YES.
2 Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and an All-Star nod (which he missed due to injury) so far. Plus the 2009 Branch Rickey Award.
Hardcore statistical purists will nitpick about Franklin Gutierrez' Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) when it comes to AL center fielders, but the entertainment value of taking away home runs is what immortalizes a player in a fan's eyes, what makes a player's glove turn "gold". The old fashioned RBI totals produce Silver Sluggers, but being a man with his head on straight, aware of his fortunate position in the world is what wins MLB's Branch Rickey Award.
Has he outperformed expectations? YES, and considerably.
His OPS+ after 1,434 plate appearances as an Angel is 121. In Angels history, for players with between 1,200-1,600 PA, Hunter ranks first in this category. Mike Napoli is second with a 120 OPS+ after 1,555 PA, while Mo Vaughn, Dan Ford and Kendry Morales each have an OPS+ of 117 as an Angel with 1,304, 1,286 and 1,240 plate appearances, respectively.
At the time of the signing, though, the length and dollar amount were the targets of most of the criticism. He has held up this far, but the scolds have ample time to declare victory in a late-contract fade.
How about those hardcore stats? YES!
His 9.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as an Angel ranks him 28th all-time and he should crack the top 20 before this time next season, ranked neck and neck with Angels greats possessing twice as many PA.
Not to denigrate the good name of stats by discussing team victories, but the Angels have won 242 regular season games, six postseason games and one postseason series while Hunter has been under contract.
Has he stayed healthy? EHH...
With rest and injuries, he has missed about 15 percent of the games he could have played.
He has played in 341 of 405 possible games. Mike Scioscia has rested him on occasion but the biggest chunk of time lost was missing over 30 games in 2009 with a pulled groin. Considering the dire predictions about his age from analysts assuming a rapid decline, he has held up quite well.
Has he earned the first $45 Million of that $90 Million? YES.
Hunter was named team spokesman for the host Angels at the 2010 All Star Game. It was a no-brainer. Any takeaway from his on-field game has been more than made up for with his media presence as the face of the team. When it comes to Los Angeles teams, for every Manny Ramirez fan there is a Manny hater, for every Kobe Bryant fan there is a Kobe hater. But even when Torii Hunter ruins your birthday with an over the fence grab, or clutch big hit, you are smiling along with him when he does it against a team you hate a few days later.
The Torii Hunter signing is the peak accomplishment of Tony Reagins' tenure as Angels General Manager. It was a tacit admission of the mistaken Gary Matthews Jr signing the season before. Many a franchise goes into denial that a sunk cost is going to turn around. Reagins did not. The lore of the signing was that it took place at a secret meeting with Hunter's agent at a Del Taco in Corona, 30 miles east of Anaheim. No offense to Coronans, but it is the middle of nowhere. And halfway through a burrito and an iced tea, in a plastic booth, Reagins committed to the biggest contract in franchise history. For the boldness of its "move forward" alone, this was a great contract. The performance and production of Torii Hunter and the connection he has made to the fans here have been icing on the cake.