Outfielder Torii Hunter has signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers, likely to start in right field next season and hit No. 2 in the lineup. In both positions, the 37-year-old appears to be an excellent fit.
Hunter has four All-Star appearances and four Gold Gloves over the course of a 16-year career with the Minnesota Twins andLos Angeles Angels. Best known for his wall-climbing catches in the Metrodome, he has started to shift towards right field in recent seasons. Hunter became the Angels’ everyday right-fielder in 2011, after playing occasionally there in 2010. Hunter’s fielding skills are still there, as his fielding percentage dropped only slightly to .984 last season (with four errors committed), the same as the league average. Hunter also had 14 assists from the outfield last year as well.
Given Comerica Park’s shorter fences in right field, Hunter is setting himself up for potential highlight plays. Detroit’s right-field fence is only 8 feet high, well short enough to rob a home run. In comparison, the right-field fence in Angel Stadium is 18 feet high, with an electronic scoreboard built in the top portion of the wall. Only in the right-field corner, where the fence is just five feet high, is there potential to grab a home run. With Hunter’s storied career of wall-climbing catches, Tigers fans could have a lot of memorable moments in right field next season.
In the batter’s box, Hunter also does not disappoint. In 2012, Torii hit .313, with 16 home runs, 24 doubles, and 92 RBI’s, all in 140 games. Over his career, those power numbers are down (from an average of 25 HRs and 34 doubles in a full season), but his batting average is up from a career mark of .277. While 22 more games would increase Hunter’s power numbers, Torii is transitioning into a more consistent hitter who can rely on those batting behind him (namely, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera) to score the runs. Hunter’s on-base percentage of .365 in 2012 is actually the second-highest of his career, one point behind the .366 put up in 2009. Hunter has matured into a smarter hitter, and will flourish in a stacked Tigers lineup.
These contract negotiations went very quickly, with Hunter clearly wanting to end up as a Tiger. Yesterday, stories began to emerge while Hunter was visiting Detroit, with sources saying that he “wants to play here” and that Torii “wanted to sign soon.” It looks like Hunter got all of his wishes, signing a deal just one day after visiting Detroit. In fact, I don’t think Hunter has even left our city because he needs to complete a physical with team doctors before the contract is official.
His Twitter profile reads, “Found a job. Headed to Motown to win that ring.”
The contract calls for two years, $26 million, similar to the contract given to Carlos Beltran in St. Louis last year.
Detroit also presents a good geographical fit for the Hunter family. Torii’s son, Torii Jr., will be playing football for Notre Dame next season. Torii Jr. was a four-star recruit out of high school, with the Fighting Irish as his top choice. (In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t look like either major Michigan school went after Torii Jr.) Comerica Park is just 3 hours and 42 minutes away from Notre Dame Stadium.
Here’s how the Tigers’ lineup will look for 2013, as of right now. I doubt the team will pursue other free-agents, apart from pitcher Anibal Sanchez.
1st – Austin Jackson, CF
2nd – Torii Hunter, RF
3rd – Miguel Cabrera, 3B
4th – Prince Fielder, 1B
5th – Victor Martinez, DH
6th – Jhonny Peralta, SS
7th – Alex Avila, C
8th – Dirks/Boesch/Berry, LF
9th – Omar Infante, 2B
That top six is more formidable than any other team in baseball.
This is the biggest story in Detroit today, so expect a press conference later this week, after Hunter’s physical. While I don’t know if this signing is worth a Mike Ilitch press conference appearance, Hunter will be out to meet the Detroit media soon.
And with all that said, the Tigers’ Opening Day is April 1 in Minnesota, Opening Day in Detroit is April 5th against New York, and the Spring Training schedule has yet to be released.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.