Hunter headed to Detroit, pending physical

Two-year contract worth $26 million as Tigers fill biggest offseason need

By Jason Beck / | 11/14/12 12:11 PM

DETROIT -- For every year the Tigers make a late strike on the free-agent market, there's a year when they move significantly and early. With Torii Hunter, the Tigers have clearly made this year the latter.
In fact, with an agreement for a two-year contract worth $26 million, Detroit filled what arguably was its biggest need with the first major free-agent signing of the offseason.
A source confirmed the deal, first reported by Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network and, pending a physical. The Tigers have an organizational policy of not commenting on contracts before a physical has been passed.
Hunter not only fills the corner-outfield spot that stood as the lone void in the Tigers' lineup, he provides Detroit with the right-handed bat it conspicuously lacked throughout the 2012 season in its struggles against left-handed pitching.
Add in Hunter's proven value batting second in a batting order -- he goes from hitting between the Angels' Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to slotting between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera -- along with his smart baserunning and still-standout defense, and there's plenty to like for the Tigers in the deal.
Instead of going for the superstar on the market -- fellow free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, who was speculated to go to Detroit in the wake of last winter's mega-signing of Prince Fielder -- team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and his staff went for the guy who was the best fit, and he didn't hesitate.
Hunter visited Detroit on Tuesday and left in the evening, reportedly without an offer in hand. The deal came together quickly Wednesday, fulfilling Hunter's statement Monday that he wasn't going to wait around to pick a club.
In that sense, the move felt a little like Detroit's signing of Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit two years ago, both of which occurred by Thanksgiving weekend. They weren't the superstars on that market, but they ended up helping lead the Tigers to the postseason.
While Hunter gets a multiyear contract that will bring him just shy of his 40th birthday, the Tigers get the future flexibility to mix top prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos into their outfield. Garcia was a postseason hero for Detroit at age 21, while Castellanos knocked on the door of a September callup at age 20.
Both could benefit greatly from working with Hunter, whose impact was credited by AL Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate Trout for helping him adjust so quickly to the big leagues.
Hunter finished up a five-year contract with the Angels this past season with one of his best campaigns in years, batting a career-best .313 with 24 doubles, 16 home runs, 92 RBIs and nine steals in 10 tries. His walk-to-strikeout ratio and power numbers declined, but his timely hitting was unmistakable.
Just as important for Detroit, he batted .340 against left-handed pitchers, by far the highest mark over a full season in his career.