Although he hasn't had a great series, Torii Hunter's Detroit Tigers are headed to a decisive Game 5 against the Oakland Athletics after a huge win on Tuesday night.
This is Hunter's seventh trip to the postseason -- a pretty impressive accomplishment when you think about it. You don't see too many players reaching the playoffs seven times in their career, let alone as part of three different clubs. Part of it is that Hunter has been fortunate enough to play almost exclusively on good teams, but certainly another part of it is that he has legitimately helped those teams get it done.
Hunter has been a great player, one whose contributions in Minnesota I may have under-appreciated to some degree in retrospect.
While I've always admired Hunter's game, I haven't always loved him. He's notoriously opinionated and occasionally has things to say that I just don't care for. Then again, you can't fault a guy for speaking his mind, and based on the way he's viewed by teammates and media, it seems safe to say that overall he's an amiable guy and a clubhouse asset. Fans are drawn to his effervescent nature on the field, not to mention his constantly high levels of energy and effort.
Is he a Hall of Famer? I would say no. He has never truly been one of the greatest players in the league and to me that's a prerequisite. But Hunter has a better case than you might suspect. He has hit 314 home runs while spending most of his career as an elite defensive center fielder (nine Gold Gloves). And boy, has he been consistent. From 2001 through 2011, he hit 20-plus homers every year (with the exception of 2005, when he missed almost half the season due to a broken ankle), and while his power has waned somewhat in his late 30s, he has still posted an .800+ OPS in each of the past two campaigns.
When you look back at those scrappy Twins teams that largely reigned over the AL Central from 2002 through his departure in 2007, it's difficult not to see Hunter as the steady beating heart. Other players came and went, had their ups and downs, but Hunter was good every year, providing middle-of-the-lineup offense along with legendary defense at a crucially important position.
There's no question that, these days, the Twins are missing many of the things Hunter brought to the table. That leads to another thought: Could a return to Minnesota ever be in the cards for the veteran outfielder?
Hunter has one more season remaining on his two-year, $26 million contract with the Tigers. He'll be a free agent again next year, at age 39, when the Twins may be looking to add some extra pieces to a roster that will (hopefully) be shaping up as a contender driven by young stars.
Acquiring players who are verging on 40 can be dangerous, but the Twins had great success in a similar situation with Jim Thome and it appears that Hunter has taken phenomenal care of his body because he's showing few signs of age.
Might the Twins consider bringing him back for one last go? Should they? It's a fun talking point as the Hunter gears up for one of the biggest games of his life.