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Tigers complete free-agent deal with Hunter

Tigers complete free-agent deal with Hunter

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Tigers complete free-agent deal with Hunter
DETROIT -- Torii Hunter began the week telling MLB Network he wouldn't need long to find a new home. By the start of the weekend, he'll be donning the old English D.

In between, the Tigers filled what was arguably their biggest need -- a corner outfielder and No. 2 hitter with some speed and defense -- with the first major free-agent signing of the offseason.

The Tigers made their two-year contract with Hunter official on Friday, and will introduce him at an afternoon press conference at Comerica Park.

Hunter's presence in Michigan had already been noted Friday morning on Twitter, where he was taking suggestions from followers on a good place to live for the season.

"Torii Hunter is a quality Major League player who is a tremendous addition to the Tigers organization both on and off the field," Tigers president, CEO and general manager David Dombrowski said. "He continues to be a consistent contributor at the plate, in the outfield and on bases, and we feel Torii is a great fit for our lineup."

Hunter is expected to take over in right field, his primary position since the nine-time Gold Glove winner moved from center in 2010. He not only fills the corner-outfield spot that stood as the lone void in the Tigers' lineup, he provides Detroit with the right-handed bat it conspicuously lacked throughout the 2012 season in its struggles against left-handed pitching.

Add in Hunter's proven value batting second in a batting order -- he goes from hitting between the Angels' Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to slotting between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera -- along with his smart baserunning and still-standout defense, and there's plenty to like for the Tigers in the deal.

Instead of going for the superstar on the market -- fellow free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton was speculated as a possibility for Detroit in the wake of last winter's mega-signing of Prince Fielder -- Dombrowski and his staff went for the guy everybody agreed was the best fit, and he didn't hesitate.

Hunter visited Detroit on Tuesday, conveniently timed during the Tigers' organizational meetings with scouts and owner Mike Ilitch, and left in the evening, reportedly without an offer in hand. Talks between the Tigers and Hunter's agent, Larry Reynolds, came together quickly Wednesday, fulfilling Hunter's statement Monday that he wasn't going to wait around to pick a club.

The move felt like Detroit's signing of Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit two years ago, both of which occurred by Thanksgiving weekend. They weren't the superstars on that market, but they ended up helping lead the Tigers to the postseason.

While Hunter gets a multiyear contract that will bring him just shy of his 40th birthday, the Tigers get the future flexibility to mix top prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos into their outfield. Garcia was a postseason hero for Detroit at age 21, while Castellanos knocked on the door of a September callup at age 20.

Both could benefit greatly from working with Hunter, whose impact was credited by AL Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate Trout for helping him adjust so quickly to the big leagues. So, too, could center fielder and Gold Glove candidate Austin Jackson, a fellow Dallas-area resident and former two-sport standout whose career path has been compared at times to Hunter.

Hunter finished up a five-year contract with the Angels this past season with one of his best campaigns in years, batting a career-best .313 with 24 doubles, 16 home runs, 92 RBIs and nine steals in 10 tries. His walk-to-strikeout ratio and power numbers declined, but his timely hitting was unmistakable.

Just as important for Detroit, he batted .340 against left-handed pitchers, by far the highest mark over a full season in his career.

Hunter arguably has as much knowledge of the Tigers and Detroit as any active player who has never worn a Detroit uniform. He hit his first Major League home run in Tiger Stadium during the old ballpark's last season in 1999. Only Paul Konerko has more at-bats at Comerica Park among players who have never been Tigers, according to STATS.

Hunter has played the equivalent of an entire season's home schedule in Detroit, 81 career games, with a .262 (80-for-305) average, seven home runs and 44 RBIs. He's also one of the few players still active who roamed the outfield at Tiger Stadium before it closed.

Hunter has watched the Tigers move out of the American League's historic cellar to become a perennial contender. In the process, he has watched, advised and admired multiple generations of Detroit outfielders, from Curtis Granderson to Craig Monroe to now Jackson, of whom he spoke glowingly in August.

"I think he's really getting comfortable in the Major Leagues and starting to figure this game out," Hunter said. "He's probably one of the best center fielders in the game. He could easily get a Gold Glove, no doubt about it."

Both Jackson and Hunter make their offseason homes near Dallas. As a former two-sport standout in high school -- who turned his athleticism into defensive excellence, making tough catches look easy, while slowly maturing as a hitter -- Jackson has earned comparisons to Hunter for his career track.

Hunter has lost a little bit of that speed with age, but he still moves well, and he can still cover ground in a hurry. Fitting, then, that in little more than 48 hours, Hunter went from Tigers killer to perhaps the key addition of the Tigers' puzzle to another World Series run.

Fitting, too, that just minutes after Hunter's deal became public on MLB Network, he had changed the wording on his Twitter profile. No longer was he "looking for a job," as it read on Tuesday.

"Found a job," his profile now reads. "Headed to Motown to win that ring!"

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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