I was among the first to call for it and predict it over the last few weeks here at SABR Toothed Tigers, but I won’t take credit for it because of how obvious a fit it was. The Tigers signed OF Torii Hunter to a 2 year, $26 million deal this afternoon to flank Austin Jackson in LF or RF depending on future moves.
This is a phenomenal signing by Dave Dombrowski. Hunter can fill in as the Tigers #2, #5, or #6 hitter depending on how the rest of the offseason goes and he can play a great corner outfield even at 37 years old. Better yet, he can mentor the budding star of Austin Jackson.
Since becoming a regular in 2001, Hunter has had one below average offensive season for his position. He’s a career .277/.335/.466 hitter and has actually been better by those standards as he’s gotten older. Hunter is clearly an offensive upgrade for the Tigers in the corners for the next two seasons as the kids get ready and he does not show any sign of dropping off.
He may start to slow down at the plate, but has only posted a wOBA below .334 once since becoming a regular and had his second best season by that metric last year.
He’s a big upgrade on defense over the Boesch/Berry tandem that got most of the playing time in 2012. He started to lose a step in CF in 2010, but the shift to RF over the last two seasons has been great for him and he’s back to being a top flight defender. For the Tigers, average would have been enough.
But Hunter’s value to me is heavily driven by his leadership and teaching ability. Mike Trout, the Angels phenom, has routinely credited Torii Hunter for his development. Trout’s talented on his own, but Hunter has been there to help him learn some of the nuances of playing defense and being a big league player.
I’m excited to see how Hunter can help Jackson, who is very talented, improve his overall game and turn into a star in centerfield.
I don’t know how much this matters, but in a sport with fewer and fewer black stars, it should help to have Hunter as a mentor to Jackson because he may identify with him. Hunter was a star for the Twins in the early 2000s and seems like the kind of player Jackson sought to emulate. It helps that they’re both from Texas and play a similar style of baseball.
Hunter’s value as a hitter, defender, and leader should be plenty enough to justify the $13 million he’ll make this year and next. He’s never posted under a 2.4 WAR as a starter and is coming off his best season. He’s also moving to a slightly better hitters’ park and gets to hit between Jackson and Cabrera most likely, which should feel familiar to Trout and Pujols, not to mention a slightly easier division.
This was a great signing and an obvious choice, but I have to say it’s one of Dombrowski’s best free agent signings. Kenny Rogers and Victor Martinez come to mind as others, but this is a deal that benefits the Tigers tremendously without being large and cumbersome. Obviously Pudge, Maggs, and Prince were great signings, but those required truckloads of cash.
This deal, like the Rogers and Martinez signings, was for market value. This is a great deal for the Tigers and I can’t wait to see Hunter in the Old English D.