Hunter deal right move for Tigers ... and Angels
Los Angeles frees up outfield; Detroit fills right-field need with veteran presence
The Angels made the right decision in letting Torii Hunter leave, and the Tigers made the right decision in welcoming Hunter aboard.Such are the complications of clarity and context. One man's trash is ... well, you know the rest (although I certainly don't advocate calling Hunter trash). Indeed, Angels fans directing their ire toward Jerry Dipoto and the rest of the Angels' braintrust for bidding goodbye to Hunter are well-entitled to their aggravation. Hunter, after all, has every intangible and many of the tangibles that you want on your roster, in your clubhouse, in your community. And speaking strictly on behalf of sportswriters everywhere, I wish every clubhouse could have a Torii Hunter, whose insightfulness, honesty, approachability and affability make for an all-too-rare combination. But when you get down to the nitty gritty of roster construction and payroll planning, Hunter was more luxury item than necessity for the Halos. In terms of athleticism and offensive upside, they are better off with an outfield concoction of Mike Trout in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Mark Trumbo in right. Having Bourjos buried on a depth chart is a waste of raw talent. And if he lives up to his potential, the Angels have the ability to slide Trout's bat into the role of run-production and his legs into a left-field spot that should be less taxing. And from an outfield payroll standpoint, the ongoing issue that is the Vernon Wells contract -- an inheritance Dipoto certainly would have declined, had he the opportunity when he took over -- doesn't afford a GM a tremendous amount of wiggle room. So letting Hunter walk ultimately made the most sense for the Angels. The only issue is the specific way they let that process play out. Offering Hunter a reported one-year, $5 million extension in mid-September -- in the heat of the playoff chase -- was an odd and ultimately "disrespectful" (as Hunter himself said) course of action. What was the point? And furthermore, what was the point of not offering Hunter a qualifying one-year offer of $13.3 million that would have ensured the Angels of Draft-pick compensation when Hunter eventually signed elsewhere? Even if Hunter would have surprised us and accepted such an offer, at worst you're left with a quality player on an affordable (and likely swappable) one-year deal. If you're an Angels fan, then, question the process, sure. But don't fret over the ultimate result -- especially considering that result did not land Hunter in Arlington. At this point, the 37-year-old Hunter simply has more value in an organization with less certainty and more flexibility in the outfield. That team turned out to be the Tigers. And for them, this is an applaudable pickup. Beyond those aforementioned intangibles, Hunter, even at this purportedly ripe old age, fills two glaring holes on both the offensive and defensive side of the equation. Tigers right fielders had the lowest OPS (.641) among Major League clubs in 2012, and those same right fielders contributed the fewest total zone fielding runs above average, according to BaseballProjection.com, and the second-fewest defensive runs saved, according to Baseball Info Solutions. Hunter, meanwhile, had an .817 OPS last season. And defensively, he was responsible for 15 defensive runs saved above average, ranking third among right fielders. Tigers fans must understand, of course, that a certain segment of that production is unrepeatable. Late-30s ballplayers are, by nature, treading dangerously close to the cliff, and Hunter had an abnormally high .389 batting average on balls in play last season. But in case you haven't looked at the middle of their order lately, the Tigers didn't need a superstar. They needed a player who can bring a couple wins above the replacement level, a little speed, a lot of professionalism, a postseason-ready heartbeat, a guy who can warm the seat, so to speak, until Avisail Garcia and/or Nick Castellanos are truly ready for prime time. A guy who, much like owner Mike Ilitch, wants a World Series ring in the worst way. Oh, sure, at $26 million over two years, the Tigers overpaid, as is quite often the case in free agency. But some of that overpay is attributable to wanting to patch these holes quickly, rather than enduring the many fluctuations of the market. Dave Dombrowski is a big believer in the value of the bird in hand, and you can't fault him for that. Besides, it's not as if the Tigers are prone to pinching pennies, and a two-year contract is entirely manageable. So while Hunter is not a slam-dunk signing, he's more of a tolerable risk to the Tigers than he was to the Angels. No matter the particulars of the process that got us to this point, the end result feels right for both clubs.