Ask any Tigers fan if he or she would rather have Torii Hunter than Delmon Young in the Detroit outfield, and you might get some laughter in response. Actually, you might get a lot of laughter.
To be fair, there is a contingent of Tigers fans (and baseball fans, in general) that thinks Young is pretty good based on how he performed in the playoffs. During the postseason, he hit .313 with a .907 OPS, three home runs and nine RBI. The man is a certified Yankees killer, and Detroit sports fans will always be grateful for that.
But the Tigers are apparently the front-runners to sign Hunter, according to several reporters—including one from ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon.
Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi also tweeted that Hunter is meeting with the Tigers on Tuesday (Nov. 13). If Detroit gets its man, Hunter will be a significant upgrade for the outfield.
Looking purely at the numbers, signing Hunter is pretty clearly a win for the Tigers. This season, he hit .313—the highest average of his 16-year MLB career—while compiling an .817 OPS. In comparison, Young hit just .267 with a .707 OPS.
Even more notable is Young's .296 on-base percentage. He only drew 20 walks in 608 plate appearances. Hunter's OBP was .365, earning 38 walks in 584 PA's.
One of the reasons Young was in the Tigers' lineup is because he hit left-handed pitching well. Young's average against lefties this year was .308 with an .833 OPS, seven home runs and 26 RBI. But Hunter is better here as well. He hit .340 versus left-handers with an .868 OPS, four homers and 14 RBI.
Based on offense alone, Hunter would be an improvement over Young. He embodies Leyland's ideal for a No. 2 hitter, a player who can hit for average and power and has speed.
But Hunter also plays defense, something Young struggled with greatly. Fans watching Young play left field during the World Series might remember him firing this errant throw into the grass.
According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Young allowed four runs more than the average left fielder did during the season. He also gave up three defensive runs saved. Compare that to Hunter, who saved 10 runs more than the average right fielder and was credited with 15 defensive runs saved.
But that kind of defense should be expected from Hunter, who was once a star center fielder with the Minnesota Twins.
During interleague play, the Tigers wouldn't have to put an inferior defender on the field to keep his bat in the lineup. Obviously, that would also apply if Detroit was fortunate enough to make it back to the World Series next season.
By playing right field, Hunter would also give the Tigers some time to make decisions on their other outfielders.
Brennan Boesch would either become expendable or receive an opportunity to refine his game, either as a reserve or by playing in Triple-A Toledo. This season, Boesch hit .240 with a .659 OPS. On defense, he allowed 12 runs more than a replacement-level right fielder. As a result, Boesch was left off the Tigers' postseason roster. However, the team says it isn't ready to give up on him yet.
Another player who would benefit from Hunter playing right field for (presumably) the next two seasons is Avisail Garcia. The 21-year-old Miguel Cabrera doppelganger impressed during the playoffs by hitting .455 in the ALCS versus the New York Yankees. In the regular season, Garcia hit .319, albeit in 51 plate appearances. He also compiled a .692 OPS, which shows that he is hardly a finished product.
Garcia was manager Jim Leyland's only option for a right-handed outfield bat in the postseason, which says plenty about the Tigers' depth at that position. While Garcia had a respectable showing, it was glaringly apparent how much Detroit needed help there.
Now, it appears that help is on the way.
Though this is something that can't be quantified in numbers, Hunter would also benefit the Tigers by providing leadership in the clubhouse.
Obviously, Detroit did just fine with the mix it had this season on its way to the World Series. But the Tigers enjoyed a veteran presence in their locker room in recent seasons with Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez and Victor Martinez.
The Tigers' lack of a clubhouse leader—or spokesperson—became apparent after Game 4 of the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics.
As explained by the Detroit News' Lynn Henning, Cabrera refused to answer questions from the media following a 4-3 loss in which closer Jose Valverde gave up three runs in the ninth inning. Reliever Octavio Dotel repeatedly told Cabrera he needed to say something, but the Tigers third baseman disregarded his teammate.
Such a scene likely wouldn't play out with Hunter (and Martinez, who will be coming back) in the clubhouse. Either of those two players would compel Cabrera to do his job and speak with the media, as a team leader should, or both would cover for their teammate and address reporters themselves.
Why Cabrera chose not to listen to Dotel is open to speculation. Perhaps Cabrera took Dotel's opinion less seriously because he's a reliever—and the bullpen had just blown the game. Or maybe Dotel was dismissed because this was his first season in Detroit and Cabrera felt he didn't have to listen.
Hunter would be a newcomer to the Tigers clubhouse as well, of course. But Cabrera would likely listen to a player with 16 years of major league experience as a hitter. Additionally, Hunter might know to handle the situation differently than yelling "You need to say something" across the room at Cabrera.
There is certainly a risk in signing a 37-year-old player to what will reportedly be a two-year contract. Yes, Hunter is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, but his skills are sure to decline at some point.
The Tigers better hope it's not while he's playing in their uniform.
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