Free agent and former Tiger Torii Hunter wanted to stay in Detroit, but he also wanted to play full-time in right field. The Tigers decided it wasn't in their best interests to keep Hunter in the organization, given their defensive issues in the outfield as it is, but that hasn't precluded other teams from going after the 39-year-old.
Several teams have been linked to Hunter since the 2014 season ended, but it appears he's cut the short-list down to four teams. After his son's football game on Saturday (Notre Dame played Southern California), Hunter told Mark Whicker, a reporter for the Orange County Register, that he was looking at the Baltimore Orioles, the Texas Rangers, the Seattle Mariners, and possibly the Minnesota Twins.
The Royals had also shown interest as they no longer have free agent Nori Aoki in right field, and Sunday CBS' Jon Heyman tweeted that the San Francisco Giants had also inquired about Hunter. The Mariners would significantly benefit from signing Hunter as he would bring a veteran right-handed bat to a very left-handed lineup. Also, as former Tiger, Austin Jackson, is with the Mariners in center field, it could sway Hunter. That the Mariners also have former Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon as their current manager might add to the attraction.
Monday the Mariners signed free agent Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $57 million deal. The team is reportedly more inclined to have Cruz fill the designated hitter position, which leaves them needing to fill the right field position. With the signing of Cruz, the Mariners may be working with decreased payroll parameters, however, as the team is also looking to fill that need externally, they may have to spend the money.
Meanwhile, the Orioles have their own pressing needs as the team declined its $17.5 million club option on Nick Markakis at the end of October. The Rangers are also recovering from an injury-riddled 2014 season and could use all the help they could get at this point. Add to the fact former Tiger Prince Fielder is with the Rangers, and it could be an attractive offer for Hunter and they might emerge as a dark horse candidate. As of Monday, ESPN's Buster Olney reports the Rangers are still engaged in discussions with Hunter.
Currently, the Twins have Oswaldo Arcia penciled in as their defensive player in right field, with Chris Herrmann, Aaron Hicks, and Chris Parmelee as backups. Former Twins pitcher and recently hired bullpen coach, Eddie Guardado, recently spoke to The Star Tribune's Rand Ball, saying that he would be spending Thanksgiving with the Hunters. Guardado, an old teammate of Hunter's, was asked if he was attempting to recruit Hunter to fill a corner outfield position during his time there. "I'm trying. I'm trying," Guardado said. "All we can do is try, right?"
Guardado went on to say that the young team needs experienced players who can bring leadership to the clubhouse. To no one's surprise, Hunter would bring that to the Twins. "Oh, he's definitely all about that," Guardado said. "We're trying to get him over here to be vocal, too. ... Absolutely. That's what we need."
At the end of the season, Hunter was vocal about the fact he wanted to remain with the Tigers, but understood it might not have been possible. Also, Hunter had stated if he were to stay in the game it would be with only certain teams. "It's Detroit or nothing," Hunter said at the time. "If Detroit don't do it, maybe Minnesota (Twins) or Anaheim (Angels) ... If they don't have anything, I'm done."
After considering retirement, Hunter chose to remain in the game and chase a World Series ring that has remained elusive to him for 18 years. While Hunter's bat has remained productive, his defensive abilities have significantly dropped off in the last two years.
For that reason, some teams have shied away from signing Hunter (including the Tigers). Hunter has said he would be seeking a one-year contract, though he would also consider a two-year contract, which would put him at 41-years-old at the end of any contract if a team signed him for more than one season.
In 2014 Hunter hit .286/.319/.446 with 17 home runs, 83 RBI, 33 doubles, 71 runs scored, and 23 walks. Defensively he was rated as the worst rightfielder in the majors, retaining a -18 DRS and a -20.1 UZR/150. Any team that signs Hunter would be taking him on for his leadership and offensive abilities, not his glove.
It should be noted, however, that late in 2014 Hunter admitted to lingering symptoms in the first half of the season that were the result of a 2013 postseason concussion (attempting to catch a home run ball against the Red Sox), which affected his ability to play. Hunter's defense improved in the second-half and he was solid for the remainder of the season.