Hunter, who spent the past five seasons with the Angels, returns to the AL Central where he won seven Gold Gloves playing center field for the Twins from 1997-2007. These days, at age 37, Hunter is a right fielder, but one who is still an elite defender.
In Detroit, he’ll likely stay in right field, though a move to left is probably not out of the question. I think that will be determined by whether or not the Tigers have another move in the queue before the off-season ends. The signing of Hunter allows manager Jim Leyland to put together a lineup that almost any other club would be envious of. Though he has spent a career as a middle-of-the-order hitter, Hunter had great success in 2012 when batting in the two-hole, just behind Mike Trout and ahead of Albert Pujols. Very few teams have a lead-off and three hitter like those two guys, but one of those teams is the Tigers, so it makes sense for Leyland to slide Hunter’s name in between that of Austin Jackson and triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
It’s a delicious place in the order to hit and one the Tigers had reserved for last year’s Opening Day right fielder, Brennan Boesch. All Boesch did with the opportunity was have the worst season of his young career and wound up losing his starting job in the season’s final month and being left off Detroit’s post-season roster.
The hallmark, if there was one, of Boesch’s tenure as a Tigers regular, was his wild inconsistency, both in the field and at the plate. Along with streaks of greatness, Boesch has been prone to extended runs of poor play. While every player is subject to slumps, Boesch’s have been often too long and too frequent. At some point it’s not a slump. At some point the player just isn’t very good.
If the Tigers planned to take the final step in their quest for a World Series winner, President and GM Dave Dombrowski knew he’d have to address their corner outfield production. Andy Dirks missed a good part of the year with an Achilles injury, but when he was healthy he played like a guy who should see regular playing time. Dombrowski indicated that the club isn’t sure Dirks can be a regular and noted the club was looking for one, maybe two, outfield bats.
By adding Hunter, the Tigers have traded sporadic performance for a 17-season track record and they do so without blocking the developmental path of top prospects Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia. By committing to a two-year deal with Hunter, the Tigers buy themselves what they hope is the perfect amount of time to develop their outfield prospects without rushing them to the big leagues.
It wasn’t a surprise that Hunter wanted to play in Detroit given his desire to win a title. It wasn’t a surprise that the Tigers wanted Hunter for all the reasons mentioned above, plus his legendary clubhouse presence. Hunter’s signing, plus the return from injury of DH Victor Martinez, gives a team that won the AL pennant in 2012, a much deeper and stronger offensive lineup. Hunter add significant defensive value as well.
It’s a marriage made in heaven.