Aging Hunter could remain in Angels' future

Aging Hunter could remain in Angels' future

Published Jul. 26, 2012 1:27 p.m. ET

Here’s the joke: Torii Hunter turned 37 years old last week, but anyone who mentions his birthday is usually greeted with a smile and the same response.
“It feels great to be 27,” he says.
Hunter might not be as young as he’d like, but he’s still playing with the energy and enthusiasm of a kid. It’s something the Angels might want to consider when the season is over and he becomes a free agent.
Since he was moved to the second spot in the batting order in early June, Hunter has felt a sense of rejuvenation. He’s hitting .318 since the change and clearly enjoys being sandwiched between leadoff hitter Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
“The on-field chemistry is very apparent,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s warmed to the No. 2 spot. I think he feels good with what he needs to do with Mike in front of him and Albert behind him.
“He’s mentoring like he always does in the clubhouse. I won’t say he feels rejuvenated. I’ve never really seen Torii down.”
That’s probably true. Hunter is always upbeat, always positive, always willing to share a good word with his teammates and the media. He sits a couple of lockers from Trout and happily serves as a mentor to the eager rookie.
When Hunter speaks, Trout listens.
“With Trout up and coming, a five-tool player, he’s special to me,” Hunter said. “It’s my goal to be fruitful and give him everything he needs, whether it’s off the field or on the field to help his career. That’s what I’m going to do as a veteran player.”
On Wednesday, Hunter was 4-for-5 with three runs and three RBI against the Kansas City Royals, including his 100th regular-season home run as an Angel. He has seven assists in right field and still covers ground well.
Hunter has made no secret of his desire to return next season, although it’s clear he could get pushed out by a likely outfield trio of Trout in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Mark Trumbo in right. But under certain scenarios, the Angels might find room for Hunter.
If Bourjos, whose name has been frequently mentioned in trade talks, is included in a deal to acquire a starting pitcher this month, it would clear the way for Hunter’s return. Or if designated hitter Kendrys Morales is traded, Hunter could ease into that spot. Not that playing DH is something he particularly enjoys.
“I love defense,” the nine-time Gold Glove winner said. “There’s something about it. But if I had to DH like I did (Wednesday), I’m thankful. It’s boring as hell, but I’m thankful.”
With so much youth on the roster, the Angels could probably benefit from keeping an older player around next season. Hunter is popular with fans and has 14 big league seasons under his belt, five with the Angels. They could do a lot worse.
He clearly doesn’t mind sliding into the background as players such as Trout, Trumbo and $240-million man Albert Pujols get most of the attention and adulation. He likes to think of himself as a player preparing to pass the baton to the next generation.
“I’m not going to sit back and say I’m jealous or whatever,” he said. “I’m 37 — I mean, 27. That’s my job and my goal in life. Every man should do the same thing — be fruitful. You have your time in, you do what you have to do. Let’s give it back and make that next person a better player and better person.”
That’s what he’s doing now. And the Angels are better for it.

Right-hander Trevor Bell, who spent parts of the past three
seasons with the Angels, was released from the team’s Triple-A Salt Lake roster
Thursday after clearing waivers.

Bell, 25, had a 1-6 record with an 8.27 ERA in 10 starts
for the Bees this season. In 37 innings, he gave up 62 hits and 34 earned runs.
He had 19 strikeouts and 24 walks.

Bell, who attended Crescenta Valley High School, was 1-1 in
19 games last season for the Angels and 4-8 with a 5.21 ERA in 52 career games
with the team.