Torii Hunter, in his prime, was a Gold Glove center fielder — nine times. Last year, however, the aging star was a liability in right field for the Tigers. He made five errors, but, what’s worse, he didn’t get to a lot of balls a faster defender would have. His sweeping range is a thing of the past.
As figured by Baseball Reference.com, Hunter’s defensive WAR was -2.4, which means his offense barely compensated for his poor defense. His total WAR was merely 0.4, and he produced that at a price of $14 million. Hardly a bargain.
Hunter’s annual WAR peaked in 2012 at 5.7 with the Angels and by 2013 with the Tigers had dropped to 1.7. Throughout his career, he was a steady three-to-four win player, but now he is essentially a zero-win player.
His offense is about the same as it’s always been: His 2014 line of .286/.319/.446 is fairly similar to his career mark of .279/.334/.465. But that’s falling off a little too: his OPS has dropped from its 2009 peak of .873 down to .765. He’s never been an on-base guy, but now he’s walking less: his 23 walks last year, after just 26 in 2013, were his worst in any full season in his career.
Hunter will turn 40 years old on July 18. The Tigers should not re-sign him. Yes, he’s a positive influence in the clubhouse, a much-liked team leader and veteran voice of encouragement. Make him a coach if you want, but don’t keep running him out there every day. He is not an asset on the field. With Victor Martinez resigned at a hefty price for four years, the Tigers have a veteran clubhouse leader in tow anyway.
Detroit has had a huge hole in center field since the Austin Jackson trade. By the end of last season, they were playing Hunter and JD Martinez in the corners and Rajai Davis in center — probably the league’s worst defensive outfield. Davis has no business in center, especially in spacious Comerica: he can barely play left field adequately.
Detroit should use Davis in left and JD, by default, in right: they are OK in the corners. And the club should give power-hitting young Stephen Moya and Tyler Colvin some at-bats next year, even though Moya has huge holes in his swing and Collins is bad defensively. They need lefty bats in the lineup, and perhaps Davis should platoon as originally intended when they acquired him at the start of last year. But neither can play center either. Hunter is a roadblock now. The Tigers’ No. 1 need is to plug that gaping hole in center, and they should use the money they’ll save by not signing Hunter to find someone to cover it.
Ezequiel Carrera is not the answer. He has already proven he’s not much of a major league hitter, though he showed some offense late last season. His defense, however, was not as good as advertised.
The trade for Anthony Gose is only a partial answer. Gose is the guy they were hoping Carrera might be — a legitimate speedster who can cover the Comerica pasture. It’s doubtful he could ever be a full-time player, however. He is awful against left-handed pitchers, and he doesn’t even hit league average against righties. But the Tigers will take that kind of minimally acceptable production given that once he gets on base, he’s a threat to steal, and more importantly, he provides the necessary defense.
If Dave Dombrowski can get someone like Peter Bourjos to be his platoon partner, the Tigers would be set in the outfield. The former Angel, now a Cardinal, will be coming off minor surgery and should be at 100% again. He is perhaps the best fielding center fielder in baseball when healthy. He will turn 28 as the 2015 season opens. He would be great at Comerica, and anything he could contribute offensively would be a plus. He has a career .692 OPS — just about average, which is fine.
Detroit needs to shore up that shoddy defense up the middle. A healthy Jose Iglesias will be a huge improvement at shortstop, and if the Tigers can continue to solidify center field as they’ve started to with Gose, they will be much better at two key positions.
Torii gave the Tigers two nice years. At the end of the season, he was contemplating retirement. That would be a classy move. If he keeps playing, he’ll have to take a pay cut, and he risks being one of those guys who tarnishes his reputation by hanging on too long.
Since he’s not in New York and can’t do a Yankees-style farewell tour, what’s the purpose? Does he really want to become Jeter-like and finish his career as a liability to his team?
It’s time for Torii to move on. I think the Tigers already have.