Tigers begin their offseason hunt

DETROIT — What big game would you hunt if you were Dave Dombrowski?

Tigers fans love to speculate on the moves their general manager should make to finally win a World Series. With that pursuit in mind, here are three names to consider: Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter and Ryan Madson.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com polled 22 general managers on the winner of the Hamilton sweepstakes. Six said the Brewers, five said the Rangers and nobody picked the Tigers.

So, there is no reason to believe Hamilton will end up wearing the Olde English D.

But was there any reason to believe Prince Fielder would sign with Detroit last year? Not really. And signing him for nine years and $214 million indicated that the Tigers should never be eliminated by payroll logic.

“I can’t say we’re actively going to participate in pursuing a big-dollar free agent,” Dombrowski said, “and I cannot say we are not going to.”

Then he mentioned having to discuss that with owner Mike Ilitch, who will grant big contracts to anyone he deems necessary in pursuit of his elusive first World Series trophy.

Hamilton, like Ilitch, has been to a pair of World Series and come up empty both times. He’s hungry and knows that Tigers’ ultra-strong pitching rotation and the addition of DH Victor Martinez to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and slugger Fielder in the middle of the order already make them the Las Vegas betting favorites to win the 2013 Series.

Cabrera, Hamilton, Fielder and V-Mart batting 3-4-5-6 would provide 478 runs batted in, based on each player’s most recent season. And it’s hard to imagine the Tigers still struggling offensively with that Murderers Row.

Speculation is that Hamilton, 31, will command as little as $60 million for three years and as much as $150 million for six years. That would require adding $20 million to $25 million to the annual payrolls.

The Tigers shelled out $119 million in 2011, and are subtracting $17.6 million in Jose Valverde, Delmon Young, Gerald Laird and Don Kelly. They added $1 million by picking up the Jhonny Peralta and Octavio Dotel options with slight raises, and likely will add about $15 million with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch and Phil Coke all picking up significant money as a result of being arbitration-eligible.

So, that puts Detroit at basically the same cash total as last season, when it ranked sixth among major league teams.

Torii Hunter is older at 37, but is perhaps a better fit for the Tigers because he would add some major juice to the No. 2 spot behind the leadoff hitter, Jackson, and come at half the price. He hit .313 in 2012 with 16 homers, 81 runs and 92 RBI. Hunter has primarily batted in the middle of the order, but his .298 average in 530 at-bats at No. 2 is his highest at any spot.

He also brings defense and vocal leadership, the latter of which was sorely lacking with Martinez out while rehabbing from knee surgery. Hunter is a four-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner. He has 29 assists over the past two seasons since moving from center to right.

Hunter will command between $12 million and $15 million annually and likely for two seasons. The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and the Angels — who did not make him a qualifying offer to keep him from costing suitors a draft pick — are very interested. But one possible perk for the Tigers is having wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. commit to play next season at Notre Dame — a quick drive from Detroit.

Dombrowski likely will mix-and-match with the postseason star Coke and setup man Joaquin Benoit at closer, and advised reporters not to “discount” flame-thrower Bruce Rondon from winning the closer role as a rookie.

But signing Madson for one year at about $8 million makes more sense. He is expected to recover from a year off with Tommy John surgery as a member of the Reds, and declined an $11 million option because he wants to close and Aroldis Chapman might stay in that role rather than move into the Cincinnati rotation.

Madson was 32 of 34 in save situations for the Phillies in 2011, when he struck out 9.2 per nine innings while walking only eight unintentionally in 60-2/3 innings. He throws in the 92- to 94-mph range with a nice cut fastball and a good changeup. And he has pitched in 33 postseason games.

Re-signing starter Anibal Sanchez, who was solid in the postseason, heads the business that Dombrowski already is tending to. He has become the top pitching target after Zack Greinke and won’t come cheap.

But we’ll have more on that in the days ahead.

Today, it’s more fun to speculate on picking off somebody else’s big talent with hopes of finally raising that gold-plated trophy with 30 pennants.