4 Reasons Torii Hunter Will Help the Detroit Tigers Repeat in the AL
The Detroit Tigers have come devastatingly close to winning a World Series three times in the last seven years, but they have come up empty in each bid.
The Tigers haven't won a World Championship since 1984. Despite being swept out of the World Series last season by the San Francisco Giants, with its recent acquisition of perennial Gold Glove Award winner Torii Hunter, Detroit will enter 2013 as the favorite to repeat as American League champs.
The Tigers signed Hunter to a two-year, $26 million contract on November 14, vastly improving the right-field position at Comerica Park and making Detroit a very dangerous team on both sides of the ball.
Hunter, who will be 38 years old next season, can do so many things on a baseball field. In the twilight of his career, without a championship, he knows his career is winding down and wants to win now.
Here are the four reasons why Hunter will help the Tigers repeat as AL champions in 2013.
Consistent No. 2 Hitter
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The Tigers experimented with their No. 2 hitter last season, but because of injuries, righty-lefty switches and inconsistency, the No. 2 spot in the lineup tended to be a revolving door in 2012.
With Hunter likely to see his name in the No. 2 spot in the lineup almost every day next season, the Tigers won't have to worry about who will be setting the table for defending AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and perennial power hitter Prince Fielder.
Last season with the Angels, Hunter hit .313 with 16 home runs and 92 RBI in 140 games. He spent a majority of the season batting second for the Angels, getting 256 at-bats, and he had the most success in that spot, averaging .343 with nine home runs and 69 RBI.
Hunter, who has a career average of .277 in 14-plus seasons with 297 homers and 1,143 RBI lifetime, has been one of the most consistent all-around players in MLB for about a decade.
He's played in at least 135 games 11 times in his career, has hit 20-plus home runs 10 times and has earned at least 90 RBI in eight different seasons.
With Hunter in the No. 2 spot, Austin Jackson, who had a .377 on-base percentage last season, will have a better chance of being driven in. Even better, Cabrera and Fielder will have a greater chance of putting up the monster numbers they're accustomed to.
Gold Glove Defender
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Besides Jackson in center field for the last few years, the Tigers have been mediocre at best defensively in the outfield.
With the addition of Hunter in right field, the Tigers become head-and-shoulders better on defense.
Hunter won nine straight Gold Gloves from 2001 to 2009. While at 37 years old he is battling father time, Hunter is still one of the best in the business on the defensive side of the ball.
Defense has largely been overlooked by the Tigers' front office in the past several years, as owner Mike Ilitch and general manager Dave Dombrowski have focused mainly on bolstering the offense. But after the Tigers performed so badly on defense last season, especially in the corner outfield positions, Dombrowski recognized the need for a proven defensive star.
"His defense is outstanding as we know," Dombrowski said to ESPN.com. "It definitely makes us a better defensive club. We haven't always been able to do it, but you want outstanding outfielders out there because there's a lot of ground to cover."
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On Detroit's World Series roster last season, the Tigers featured 16 players under the age of 30.
Hunter will be an immediate upgrade to an already solid clubhouse and will be a calming presence with the young guys.
Not only will Hunter be able to mentor the young players in the Tigers clubhouse, but because he will be able to play essentially every day, Detroit won't be forced to hurry along phenoms Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos.
Garcia, 21, made the playoff roster after a promising performance during a September call-up last season and is expected to threaten for an Opening Day roster spot this season.
But Garcia, who primarily plays right field, won't have to be subjected to the grind of playing every day in a 162-game season with Hunter playing in front of him.
Garcia can be brought along slowly, get to watch a lot of film and receive tutoring from one of the best outfielders to play the game.
Castellanos, 20, has been tearing the cover off the baseball in the minor leagues and has all but forced the Tigers to give him a chance to prove what he can do in the show.
But with Hunter on the roster, the need to bring up Castellanos decreases incredibly.
Searching for a Ring
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Hunter came to Detroit because he wanted to.
He could have picked several different teams that were interested in his services, but Hunter chose to be a Tiger because he wants to win a championship as his career winds down.
Desire and desperation can go a long way in sports. At 37, Hunter knows his time in MLB is running out. Although he has a lot of hardware with his nine Gold Gloves, Hunter has a serious lack of jewelry.
In 14-plus seasons, he's never won a World Series ring.
Now that Detroit has had recent success and has increased its payroll, it can sign big-time free agents, and the biggest names on the free-agent market want to play at Comerica Park.
Hunter knows the Tigers have won back-to-back AL Central championships, and he knows they have represented the AL in the World Series twice in the last seven years.
He wanted to go to a team where he could fit in and have a chance to win a ring quickly.
“It’s the perfect fit. Just been watching the teams and everything and they want me to hit second, in front of (Miguel) Cabrera, you can’t beat that," Hunter said on the Dan Patrick Show. "They want me to play right field and I saw this team and it’s still intact."