Published November 20, 2014
It won't be the flashiest move of baseball's offseason, not with names like Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke and B.J. Upton still out there, but the Detroit Tigers have already taken a step to remain the elite team in the American League.
The Tigers fit a round peg into a round hole with the addition of Torii Hunter, getting an early jump on filling a need at the corner outfield spot.
Hunter, coming off his 16th season that produced a career-high .313 average with a respectable 16 homers and 92 RBI in 140 games, slides in nicely near the top of the Tigers' order in between leadoff man Austin Jackson and 2012 AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. The righty gives Detroit a producer against left-handed pitchers after hitting at a .340 clip versus southpaws this past year, and even at the age of 37-year-old he is no slouch on defense.
The Tigers had the seventh fewest errors in the AL a season ago and Hunter certainly won't hurt those numbers. He should also improve on the club's disappointing .253 average against lefties.
Not only that, but adding a veteran like Hunter on a reported two-year deal adds a mentor for a pair of Detroit's top outfield prospects in the 20-year- old Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia, 21.
And if you believe that learning never stops, Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove winner and lifetime .277 hitter, can even lend some wisdom to Jackson, a budding star who will enter his fourth season off a career-high .300 average and 16 homers.
Just look at what Hunter did last season for the reigning AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout.
There are still moves to be made, but the Tigers' offense figures to be one of the most feared in baseball. Cabrera and last year's literal and figurative big free agent addition, Prince Fielder, were the 1-2 punch that the franchise hoped they would be and helped the Tigers get to the World Series.
And don't forget, the only reason that Detroit went after Fielder was because Victor Martinez suffered a knee injury in January that led to what turned out to be season-ending surgery. He'll return in 2013 as the designated hitter.
Adding a career .303 switch-hitter who owns five 20-homer and four 100-RBI seasons? Nothing wrong with that and the talent around him will more than compensate if Martinez gets off to a slow start.
Martinez's return is another reason that the Hunter move makes total sense.
Yes, they're were younger options available: Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino, and Angel Pagan to name a few. But Hunter is a steady, short-term fix who is motivated to win a title and his reported deal worth just $26 million still leaves the Tigers flexibility to fill other holes. A Hamilton, Bourn or Upton would not have offered the same.
The offense is set and the Tigers still have the 2011 AL MVP in the mix. Starter Justin Verlander guarantees a chance to win every fifth game and like Hunter, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister are underrated contributors to the rotation.
Detroit is likely to make a run at re-signing starter Anibal Sanchez, acquired during the season from the Miami Marlins, and the club must decide who will be the closer assuming that Jose Valverde is not re-signed after his postseason meltdown. Phil Coke filled the role and was solid, but owns just six major league saves.
But there are options for the Tigers and plenty of time to evaluate them now that Hunter is apparently in the mix.
It shouldn't take much to convince any other players looking for work to jump on board what can only be described as a title-destined ride.