It appears as though the reigning AL champion Detroit Tigers have taken the first step in defending their 2012 AL pennant. MLB Trade Rumors reports that the Tigers have agreed to a two-year, $26m deal with free agent outfielder Torii Hunter. I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised by this move as the Tigers had one of the worst outfields in all of baseball in 2012. Torii Hunter, while surprising many, had a fantastic season in his last year with the Angels. He posted 5.3 WAR with a defensive performance that was well perceived by advanced metrics. Of course, defensive metrics are not an exact science, but Hunter has compiled at least average defensive numbers over the past four seasons. What makes this signing a savvy one for the Tigers is that they now have an outfielder that was more valuable in 2012 than the Tigers entire 2012 outfield combined. Hunter produced 5.3 WAR versus a combined 4.4 from Tigers outfielders which was good for the 5th worst mark in the majors (the Astros were unsurprisingly…last). Brennan Boesch was perhaps the worst offender at an astounding -1.3 WAR in 2012. Delmon Young also once again proved that he is the true definition of the term “replacement level player” by putting up an underwhelming -.7 WAR with an 89 wRC+. Delmon Young is to replacement level players as Delmon Young’s defense is to the worlds most egregious crimes. He happens to be the gold standard in two separate, albeit unfortunate categories. He is the Bruce Lee of being just good enough to stay employed! Alright, enough of that for now. The point is that there appear to be brighter days ahead for Tigers fans and less poorly played foul balls for Tigers pitchers to fret over.
I pray for Tigers fans sake that Leyland will go into 2013 with an outfield consisting of Hunter, Andy Dirks, and Austin Jackson. I realize that this may sound like an obvious decision to many of you, but it is apparently a very difficult concept for Leyland to grasp. I mean, Brennan Boesch participated in almost 1000 innings of baseball this season. Come on! I wouldn’t have let Brennan Boesch start for my softball team last spring and we didn’t win a single game (Go Manbearpigs!). Not to mention the travesty that was Delmon Young flailing about in the outfield during the World Series. I still have flashbacks to the 2010 World Series when Vladimir Guerrero was forced to play defense for the first time in ages. He looked like an animal that was born in captivity seeing its natural habitat for the first time. Despite how bad Vlad was during the series I don’t think any defensive blunder could measure up to this one from game one in San Francisco.
I felt truly awful for Tigers fans during that series even though I was heavily pulling for the Giants, but I digress. Torii Hunter certainly makes Leyland’s job easier, but it is extremely unlikely that he will be anything resembling a 5 WAR player going forward. However, the Tigers were smart enough to only offer him a two year deal which will take Hunter through his age 38 season. I believe it’s reasonable he could produce number more similar to his 2010 and 2011 campaigns in 2013 which would have him remain a still useful player. His .389 BABIP is clearly unsustainable, but if his batted ball profile reverts back to something near his career numbers he will still be a solid outfielder. Some of the likely regression will be offset by the change from Angels Stadium to Comerica Park. Since the Tigers organization moved left center field fence in by 15 feet Comerica has become an above average destination for right handed hitters. Angels Stadium plays average, so Hunter should see at least a slight bump in his numbers simply due to the park factor difference.
The question really is whether or not Hunter can post the roughly 4 WAR over the next two seasons in order to justify his contract. I believe that he can and will. However, the Tigers are in a position of great power in which they can afford to overpay players in free agency. They were savvy enough to spend money on improving their most glaring weakness, the outfield, which I believe will pay off on their quest for a second straight World Series appearance. This is still a team with a weak bullpen and uncertain back of the rotation. Thankfully, bullpen help is rather abundant and cheap on the free agent market. With this move the Tigers have virtually guaranteed themselves a playoff spot in a weak AL Central. Unless the White Sox plan on signing Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke over the next few weeks I’d expect Kenny Williams to be sitting at home next October. Sadly, this move may have sealed more than just the White Sox fate. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kenny Williams loses his job after another disappointing season in 2013. I realize that I’m making wild speculations, but what kind of baseball writer would I be if I didn’t make a wild speculation or two? As long as I haven’t fallen off of the Bleacher Report cliff I will still be able to sleep at night. At least I know that there’s a chance that I’m being delusional unlike Leyland. Any man who would willfully start the outfield that he started in the World Series might be a little bit more than delusional. Perhaps it is Leyland and not Williams who truly deserves to be fired, but as we all know the world is not a fair place. The mediocre often succeed to do a combination of happenstance and sheer luck while others fall by the wayside. Tigers fans should be ecstatic that not even Jim Leyland could screw up this outfield. I just hope I don’t have to eat my words if Boesch and Ryan Raburn trot out into the corners for the Tigers on opening day. Here’s hoping!
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