Torii Hunter played a big part in helping Mike Trout bounce back from an up-and-down 40-game stint in the Majors in 2011 to become one baseball's best at age 21. Hunter helped Trout grow as a center fielder, as a hitter, as a man.
Now Trout is starting to come to grips with the reality that his biggest mentor probably won't be back with the Angels next season.
"I've been calling him, wishing him the best of luck," Trout said on a conference call Monday, shortly after being named the unanimous winner of the American League's Rookie of the Year Award. "It doesn't look like he's coming back. I've been just thanking him. Even if he plays for another team, I'm sure I'll still be able to call him and keep this friendship going. He's just an incredible guy."
Neither the free-agent Hunter nor the Angels have closed the door on a return in 2013, but the monetary gap that sits between them will probably never close. The Angels have outfield depth and need to allocate their funds to pitching, and Hunter is drawing interest from a number of teams -- most notably the Rangers, Tigers and Braves -- after a fantastic season at age 37.
That probably means Hunter will play elsewhere in 2013.
For the Angels, that probably means Mark Trumbo takes over for Hunter in right field; Trout moves to left, where Trumbo often played; and Peter Bourjos plays center field.
Trout, who hasn't been told anything officially by manager Mike Scioscia, admits his preference is center and says moving to left field full-time is "definitely going to be an adjustment."
"But to help the team win, I'll play wherever [Scioscia] will put me," Trout added. "Just being out there is all that matters."
"Is [Trout's] greatest value and impact on an industry-wide basis playing center field? Sure, because he looks great and it's so much more productive than the normal center fielder," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said earlier this offseason. "But wherever you put Mike, it's the same impact. It depends who you have playing center, it depends who you have playing right."
Hunter's departure would give the Angels a lot of bang for their buck, with Trout, Bourjos and the slugging Trumbo each making below million because they're still not arbitration eligible.
Hunter's age, his .389 batting average on balls in play in 2012 and his 258 strikeouts the last two years makes the Angels skeptical that he could repeat a season in which he sported a career-high .313 batting average.
Then there's his off-field leadership, which is impossible to measure and isn't given much weight in a game so driven by the numbers and the tangible.
Not to Trout, though.
"He's impacted my whole career so far," Trout said. "Coming up, he kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. He was always there for me, on and off the field. Any questions I would have, he would answer. He was the right guy to go to.
"He's been in the league for that long, a veteran guy, he really took it upon himself to lead me the right way, and I can't thank him enough."