The Angels decided against extending a qualifying offer to Torii Hunter by Friday's deadline, which means they won't get Draft-pick compensation if the free-agent outfielder signs elsewhere this offseason.
But it's also a reminder of just how far apart the two sides are in the early part of this offseason.
Monetarily, a sizable gap still sits between them -- and it may not narrow unless the Angels can save money by trading Vernon Wells. Reached by phone shortly after general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed that the Angels didn't extend the $13.3 million one-year offer, Hunter said he remains hopeful of a return to Anaheim, but admitted that his confidence of it happening is "pretty low."
"There's still a chance that I can be there, so we'll see what happens," Hunter added. "But right now, it's the business side of baseball and my agent, Larry Reynolds, and I, we're going to just come up with a game plan because it's also a business for me. This is my business, this is my company, this is my job -- me. And I have to take care of that company, so that's what I'm going to do to the best of my ability."
Hunter didn't want to comment on specifics with regards to the discussions with Dipoto, but Reynolds admitted that not getting the qualifying offer makes Hunter's return to the Angels "more of a challenge, without question."
Dipoto said he'll "never shut the door on anything," but sounded like a man who's ready to move on.
"The decision was not simply that we didn't see the ability to fit Torii Hunter's salary to a payroll structure -- it was Torii Hunter's 2013 salary number in conjunction with where he was going to play on the field," Dipoto said. "Clearly, we made a choice, at this moment in time, to situate ourselves to allow Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos the ability to get out there and play on a regular basis. Vernon Wells and Kole Calhoun become part of a support staff that allow us a five-man depth in the outfield that we'll address as we get into the offseason a little deeper."
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can offer their own free agents a one-year, $13.3 million deal, which is an average of the top 125 player salaries from the previous year. Those who get the offer have seven days to accept it. If they don't, their former teams will obtain a compensatory-round (between first and second) Draft pick if he signs somewhere else.
For Angels free agents like Maicer Izturis, LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen, this was a non-issue because they made far less than $13.3 million in 2012 and will make far less than that in 2013. For Zack Greinke, acquired from the Brewers in July, it also doesn't apply because qualifying offers can only be extended to players who were on the same team all year.
For Hunter, though, it's significant because he could command something close to that number in free agency, and not having a Draft pick attached makes him more attractive to suitors.
The 37-year-old right fielder, who sported a career-high .313 batting average with 16 homers in 2012, said he will only go to a contending team and is open to playing center field again if needed.
But he's still hopeful of a return to Anaheim.
"All is not lost, and you never know," Hunter said. "[Owner] Arte [Moreno] knows what he's doing, he's a business man, and when you think something's not going to happen with him, it happens. I still think there's a shot, but at the same time, there's going to be a lot of teams with shots. I have to do that."
The Angels, a source said, didn't tender the qualifying offer to Hunter for a couple of reasons:
1. They believe he would've taken it anyway, making it a moot point.
2. The presence of Wells, along with the desire to address the pitching staff and the concern that Hunter won't duplicate his 2012 season, makes that figure far too high.
Reynolds understands the Angels have things they have to iron out and hasn't ruled out a return for Hunter, but added: "We have to move forward."
Hunter shares that notion -- but he's staying positive.
"Moving on doesn't mean I have to stray away from the Angels," he said. "Yeah, I have to move on. I have to go out there and see what's out there for me. But as a free agent, the Angels are a part of that, too. Like I said, there's still love in my heart for the Angels. Don't get it twisted. But I have to be ready to take care of my company, which is me."