Hunter, Tigers play free-agent waiting game
As Detroit works to re-sign DH Martinez, veteran outfielder's future in limbo
DETROIT -- The Tigers and Torii Hunter remain in a waiting game while Detroit tries to work out the pressing issues elsewhere on its roster, notably at designated hitter. There could be a limit to how long that wait goes.
Next weekend will mark the two-year anniversary of Hunter's arrival in Detroit. He wasted little time that offseason identifying his destination, initiating a call to the Tigers, visiting front-office personnel in the middle of their organizational meetings, and then signing a two-year, $26 million contract a few days later. He wanted a World Series title badly, and he knew where he wanted to try to get it.
Two years later, neither he nor the Tigers have their title, but they still have a common interest in trying to find it. Whether they have any common ground on a deal is another matter. So far, there has been little to no talks on that front.
The Tigers have made a priority to try to keep fellow free agent Victor Martinez, Detroit's DH for three of the past four years. What happens with him could have an impact -- positionally and financially -- on Hunter, who has manned right field for two seasons, but is also approaching his 40th birthday next July and has seen his defensive metrics drop over his two years in Detroit, despite some very good catches in right-center field down the stretch this past season.
Hunter, in turn, has let it be known he's interested in staying with the Tigers. But as mentioned, he also has been known to move quickly as a free agent, identifying his target early and signing there. He joined the Tigers about two weeks into the offseason two years ago, and he signed with the Angels on Thanksgiving the first time he was a free agent after the 2007 season.
Depending on how long the Tigers' other matters linger, Hunter could be in a position where he has to choose between waiting on their uncertainty and taking an opportunity somewhere else. That makes the chances of his return far less clear than they were a couple of weeks ago.
Though Tuesday marked the first day that teams could negotiate with other clubs' free agents, nothing prevented clubs from expressing interest before that as long as no contract terms were discussed. Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 in Minneapolis tweeted Tuesday morning that the Twins already expressed interest in Hunter, who came up through Minnesota's system and served as the heart and soul of the team through its run of American League Central titles in the mid-2000s. By the end of the week, at least seven teams had shown interest in Hunter, according to CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, including the Twins and Royals.
The Twins are a ways off from the World Series contender that Hunter seeks, as he tries to round out his career with a Fall Classic berth, let alone a title. Still, Hunter's Twins roots and the pending wave of young talent make for a potential fit, bringing his career full circle as he nears his 19th Major League season.
Hunter is also a fan of new Twins manager Paul Molitor, having raved during the season about his knowledge of the game and ability to observe trends on the field. Molitor worked with Hunter in Minnesota a decade ago.
The American League champion Royals were speculated last month as having potential interest in Hunter to fill their right-field void now that Nori Aoki is a free agent.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have the kid they hope is their future right fielder in 23-year-old Steven Moya, who has tailed off a bit from his hot start in the Arizona Fall League, but continues to punish pitches when he connects. What Detroit has to formulate is the player who will act as the bridge, either carrying right field until Moya is ready for a full-time big league role, or sharing playing time with the left-handed-hitting Moya to ease the transition if he makes the Opening Day roster.