Torii Hunter, hyperinflation, and the Phillies

In today's paper, we wrote about the potential for price inflation thanks to an increase in the money supply generated by the new national television deals that Major League Baseball signed in October. One early case study could end up being Torii Hunter. In year's past, Hunter was the kind of guy that big market general managers might target as a potential cost-effective stop-gap option: experienced, coming off a good season, and perhaps willing to exchange some money for a chance to win a World Series. But's Jon Heyman recently floated Carlos Beltran as a possible comparison for Torii Hunter, which suggests that Hunter's agent is floating Beltran as a comparison, since you know damn well that GMs like Ruben Amaro Jr. and Ben Cherington aren't.

In the same market conditions as the past couple of off seasons, the comparison would probably seem a tad ludicrous. First and foremost, Hunter is two years older than Beltran, who was heading into his 35-year-old season when he signed a two-year, $26 million contract with the Cardinals last year. Second, Beltran was coming off a markedly better season than Hunter, with a batting line of .300/.385/.525, a .910 OPS and 22 home runs in 598 plate appearances. Hunter's numbers: .313/.365/.451/, an .817 OPS, and 16 HRs in 584 PAs.

The more accurate comparison for Hunter would be somebody like Magglio Ordonez, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the White Sox after his 36-year-old season (same age as Hunter this year), when he hit .303/.378/.474 with 12 home runs, missing time due to injury. The season before, he logged 518 plate appearances and hit .310/.376/.428.

Even better might be Johnny Damon after his 35-year-old season in 2009, when he hit .282/.365/.489 with 24 home runs in 626 plate appearances before signing a one-year, $8 million deal with the Tigers. Fact is, the last corner outfielders to get multi-year deals who were as old as Hunter were Manny Ramirez and Raul Ibanez in the pre-2009 offseason.

Granted, asking prices are always high early in free agency. It's the art of negotiating. But if Hunter really does think that he can land a two-year deal at a double-digit AAV, or even a one-year deal north of $10 million, I'd say the perception that owners are suddenly flush with cash is affecting prices. In the market conditions of recent off seasons, I'd peg Hunter as one-year, $8 or $9 million player, max. Even that is an expensive gamble that he'll be able to postpone the inevitable career-ending flameout for at least another year. At that price, the Phillies might consider him. But the fact that Amaro went out of his way to downplay the notion that teams have a lot of money to spend would suggest that he is a bit worried that such a notion will inflate prices to the point where a highly leveraged team like the Phillies will not be able to afford the kind of players they were counting on to round out their roster.