COMMENTARY | With a walkoff home run Aug. 29 that saved the Detroit Tigers from a four-game sweep courtesy of the Oakland Athletics, Torii Hunter cemented his status as one the best free-agent signings in team history.
Paying a 37-year-old outfielder $13 million a season for two years sounded like a stretch to some (including myself) when the Tigers inked Hunter to a deal last offseason. Hunter was fresh off an impressive season with the Los Angeles Angels, but aging outfielders rarely post the types of numbers Hunter did in consecutive seasons.
Hunter has not only proved the critics wrong, but he's also become the best free-agent signing of general manager Dave Dombrowski's career with the Tigers.
Here are the top three reasons why Hunter is Dombrowski's most valuable free-agent acquisition:
Impact on the lineup
For years, the Tigers have looked for a suitable No. 2 hitter who could get on base and provide some pop in front of the big hitters in the lineup. Hunter has far exceeded those needs and become maybe the most important part of the Tigers' lineup.
With an on-base percentage of .343 and a slugging percentage of .480, Hunter has been the ideal hitter in front of Miguel Cabrera. Pitchers know Cabrera is lurking so they must attack Hunter, but the veteran hitter is making those pitchers pay anyway.
Hunter is on pace to finish the season with close to 20 home runs, 85 RBIs and nearly 40 extra-base hits. You simply can't ask for more from one of your table-setters.
Ability to help young outfielders
Austin Jackson is an outstanding center fielder; there is no doubt about that. But as good as he is, Jackson is nowhere near the level Hunter was in his prime while patrolling the outfield in Minnesota. Hunter won nine consecutive Gold Gloves in the outfield, and that experience can only help Jackson.
Hunter plays next to Jackson every day and by seeing what his young apprentice does day in and day out, Hunter can help turn Jackson from a great fielder into and elite one. With prospect Nick Castellanos expected to join the team at some point in the next year, Hunter will also make his mark on more than just Jackson.
Gives the team options going forward
With Castellanos getting closer to being ready for the big leagues and Jackson firmly entrenched at center field, Hunter has given the Tigers another season to search for their next outfielder of the future. Hunter's successes made it easier for the Tigers to ship Avisail Garcia out of town to acquire Jose Iglesias and not have to worry about who their third outfielder will be next season.
Had Hunter struggled this season, it is doubtful Garcia would've been traded. Hunter also allows for the Tigers to develop Castellanos a little longer while making sure he's ready for the majors. In the meantime, the Tigers can still trot Andy Dirks out there and not hurt the lineup.
While guys like Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez were great signings by Dombrowski, Hunter's presence has turned the Tigers into a team with not only a chance to get back to the World Series but also one with a legitimate chance to win it.
Stats courtesy of http://baseball-reference.com.
Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has followed the Detroit Tigers his entire life. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @mdurr84.
- Sports & Recreation
- Torii Hunter
- Detroit Tigers
- Dave Dombrowski