DETROIT — Torii Hunter will fill so many needs for the Tigers.
He brings a Gold Glove, hunger, outstanding leadership and the perfect offensive skills to hit after Austin Jackson and before Miguel Cabrera.
Hunter looks like the final piece of the puzzle required to win a World Series.
Tigers general manager and president Dave Dombrowski has added either a superstar or an All-Star to the lineup in five of the past six seasons. It began with third baseman Cabrera in 2008, continued with center fielder Jackson and left fielder Johnny Damon in 2010 and then designated hitter Victor Martinez in 2011.
Getting first baseman Prince Fielder in 2012 was the seismic signing, but Hunter is the only six-tool player in the group. What is that sixth tool?
Leadership. Specifically, vocal leadership.
Detroit has plenty of leaders by example and doesn’t have any clubhouse cancers. But it needed somebody to get in people’s faces from time to time.
That’s what Brandon Inge did for years and what Martinez couldn’t do because he was rehabilitating from knee surgery last season. Damon also brought that for one season, 2010.
Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel noted the need for this during the stretch run. He spoke up, but that voice needs to come from an everyday player.
Here’s what Angels center fielder Mike Trout had to say after winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award on Monday:
“I was going through a little skid in the outfield in Toronto. I misplayed a ball and I was upset. (Hunter) said, ‘Get into the game. Mess with the fans. Laugh out there. You’re taking the game too serious.’ It was motivational. He got the negative out of my hair and led me the right way.”
Guys who can take the “negative” out the heads of players on a daily basis are worth the reported $26 million over two years Hunter will receive. The only stat for leadership is the won-loss record, and Hunter most surely will make the Tigers better than 88-74 — their 2012 record.
Hunter updated his own Twitter bio shortly after the signing broke: “Found a
job! Headed to Motown to win that ring!”
The 37-year-old veteran outfielder has never been to the World Series, but has batted .305 in 131 postseason at-bats for the Twins and Angels. This contract could be his last chance at reaching and winning the Fall Classic, and he shares the hunger of a franchise that has not won it all since 1984.
Tigers right fielders batted .235 with 13 homers, 65 runs and 66 RBI last season. Those filling the No. 2 hole hit .257 with 16 homers, 93 runs and 76 RBI.
Hunter hit a career-best .313 in 2012 with 16 homers, 81 runs and 92 RBI. He has primarily batted in the middle of the order, but his .298 career average in 530 at-bats at No. 2 is his highest at any spot. Hunter could score 100 runs with Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez batting behind him.
The four-time All-Star should get his 300th homer and 2,000th hit early in the season, needing three homers and 14 hits to reach those milestones.
Hunter hits for power and average. Although his speed is not what it once was — he used to be counted on for 20 stolen bases — he did swipe nine of 10 attempts this past season.
Rounding out his five tools are the glove and arm. Hunter just won his ninth consecutive Gold Glove, and totaled 29 assists as a right fielder the last two seasons. He earned the nickname “Spider-Man” for a reason and still covers plenty of ground.
Imagine Hunter playing next to potential All-Star center fielder Jackson. If Quintin Berry is in left, the square-footage at Comerica Park could not be covered any better.
Hunter, who made $18 million last year and $18.5 million the previous two seasons, will make $13 million per year with this new deal. He’s not expected to carry the Tigers, but they do anticipate that he’ll provide a much-needed spark.
The fact that he can do that in six different ways makes Hunter quite a fit. Here’s a projected lineup:
1. Jackson, CF 2. Hunter, RF 3. Cabrera, 3B 4. Fielder, 1B 5. Martinez, DH 6. Jhonny Peralta, SS 7. Alex Avila, C 8. Omar Infante, 2B 9. Berry, LF
That looks pretty potent, doesn’t it? Manager Jim Leyland must be smiling.