For my first free agent target piece of the off-season, I wanted to come out swinging right out of the gate. Yes, it would be nice to have Josh Hamilton added to the middle of an already formidable Tigers order. However, I just don’t see that as all that realistic. Hamilton is going to ball park in that 20M dollar a year range. At the very least 18M per year. I don’t see the Tigers taking that on. So in the land of corner outfielders, that leaves the next best option. Torii Hunter.
Let me make this one clear. I am a huge advocate of the Tigers signing Torii Hunter. Why? He is the absolute perfect fit, and in numerous ways.
September 30, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Mark Trumbo (44) and right fielder Torii Hunter (48) celebrate after Hunter
First of all, the Tigers are ideally looking for someone that they can sign on a short term deal, preferably a one year deal because of the expected development of Avisail Garcia and/or Nick Castellanos to begin taking full time corner outfield positions in 2014. Hunter, who is 37 years old, and turns 38 in July, isn’t likely to be getting a lot of long term offers. His contract could run anywhere from 10M per year to 15M depending on the number of bidders. And make no mistake, there will likely be a few bidders, but mostly looking to rent Hunter for just one year.
The short length of contract isn’t the only favorable thing going for Hunter.
He is also a right handed hitter. The Tigers are somewhat desperately looking for guys that hit right handed, especially guys that play the outfield. In the mix for outfield time in 2013 for the Tigers are the lefty swinging Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch, and Quintin Berry. Hunter could bring a right handed stick to a batting order that tends to struggle against left-handed pitching. Hunter doesn’t struggle against lefties at all. Versus left handed pitching over the course of his career, Hunter hits a very good .289, with an OPS of .843.
While Hunter’s power isn’t as good as it was six or seven years ago, it’s still very respectable. The Tigers could likely count on a 15-20 home run output with about 25 to 30 doubles added to that. Hunter still runs well, despite the veteran status, though he isn’t going to pile up stolen bases. His base running is more savvy, and that is something that the Tigers could use as well. Offensively, Hunter is likely to be a significant upgrade over anything the Tigers currently offer on the corners, unless Andy Dirks can replicate his 2012 season. But Andy Dirks still could play left.
That gets me to the next positive on Hunter. His defense. He would upgrade the outfield defense significantly. Even with losing a step overall because of Father Time, Hunter still plays a good outfield. He was an above average defender in right field last season according to Baseball Reference. With the Tigers roster being filled with poor defenders, Hunter’s glove would be a welcome addition. Not only that, he could potentially teach Austin Jackson a few things as well, being right next to him on a day to day basis.
Speaking of teaching, that leads to the next positive I see with Hunter. As a veteran of 16 years, Hunter has seen and done a lot in the game of baseball. I see him as a strong presence in the clubhouse and a guy that could provide some leadership to a Tigers squad that looks from the outside that it could use some. Hunter might not necessarily be a tremendously vocal leader, but he seems to be well respected by teammates.
Now, back to on the field advantages of the Tigers bringing Torii Hunter into the fold. Hunter would solve the issue of who hits second in the order on the Tigers. Yes, Omar Infante has the ability to handle the bat, but he isn’t the ideal on-base guy in that spot. Hunter isn’t an OBP machine either by any stretch, his career is at .335. However, he does have that combination of hitting for some pop that Leyland likes, and runs well enough not to clog the bases. It would give Jim Leyland a guy that he could plug into that spot on a daily basis.
Lastly, Hunter is battle tested. Hunter has been in numerous playoff situations, appearing in the post-season six different times. Not only has he been in the post-season, he has performed. Hunter is a career .305 hitter in the playoffs, posting an OPS of .858 in post-season action.
I would imagine that a big part of what Hunter will be looking for is teams that can provide him with an opportunity to win a World Series ring. The Tigers do look like a team that is poised to make another post-season run in 2013, especially given that the Central division looks like it should be theirs for the taking again. So, in that regard, the Tigers have to look attractive to Hunter.
Torii Hunter is a winner folks. He has been there and done that, and the good thing about him is he still looks like he can play. This isn’t the case of an aging player that is drastically declining like Ichiro. Hunter’s power decline is slow, but he still has a ton of value on the baseball diamond. And there is added value in the clubhouse as well.
As you can see, I am clearly in the “yes” column on bringing Torii Hunter to Detroit. What do you all think? Is Torii Hunter a good fit for the 2013 Tigers?