Senior Baseball Columnist

Tigers may be best fit for free agent Hunter

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Free agent Torii Hunter is being aggressively pursued by the Tigers, Rangers and Braves. (US Presswire)  
Free agent Torii Hunter is being aggressively pursued by the Tigers, Rangers and Braves. (US Presswire)  

Recruiting season never ends at Torii Hunter's Texas home.

In September, Torii Jr. verbally committed to play football next season at Notre Dame. Southern Methodist University is among those making a strong pitch to Torii's brother, Money.

And now, dad's phone is ringing incessantly.

"It's a lot of fun going through this process," Torii Hunter was saying Monday. "It's fun to get wooed."

Especially when nearly one of every two teams in the majors is doing the romancing. As the free-agent outfielder prepares for life after the Angels, he has 13 or 14 teams checking in with him.

Of those, the Tigers, Rangers and Braves are among the most aggressive, according to CBSSports.com sources. Hunter declined to identify a favorite or even whittle down the list, but given his parameters, it's easy to see several fits. Especially in Detroit.

Hunter, 37, has one clear obsession at this point in his career, and that's to win a World Series ring.

"That's the ultimate goal," he says. "I've made some money in this game. People talk like, 'He's selling his soul for money.' You want to be comfortable. You want to be happy and know you're going to win.

"If you can get a nice price that's comfortable and at the same time win ... that's perfect.

"Yeah, it's my job. And at the end of the day, when this job is over, it's over. There ain't no money coming in.

"For me, I want to play, and I want to win."

That's why when you scan the landscape for potential fits, it's hard to find one more compatible than Detroit.

The Tigers have most everybody returning from this year's World Series team and a club that has played in the past two American League Championship Series. The one significant offensive player who will not be back is Delmon Young, and the more athletic Hunter could plug in for him and improve Detroit's outfield defense.

He could slide into the No. 2 hole in the Tigers' lineup -- same place he batted for most of this summer in Anaheim. And his power numbers could actually improve back in the AL Central with fewer games in Safeco Field, Oakland's Coliseum and even Angel Stadium.

As it is, Hunter hit .313 with 16 homers and 92 RBI for the Angels last summer. That was his highest RBI total since 2007, when he was still with the Twins.

He hasn't heard from the Angels since they checked in with a token one-year, $5 million offer on Sept. 17, the day before the Rangers came to Anaheim for one of the final showdown series of the summer.

Ironically, just 10 days later, owner Arte Moreno told the Angels' radio station, "If we don't figure out a way to sign him we're going to get hung, aren't we?"

"They never offered me anything worth considering," Hunter says. "It actually was very disrespectful, what was offered."

He has moved beyond them now, with "no hard feelings," clear-eyed enough to see where the Angels are. Which is heading into 2013 with Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos in the outfield.

"Vernon Wells' contract [which still has two years and $42 million remaining], the bullpen ... that's the reason they offered that," Hunter says. "At the end of the day, they’re still businessmen up there."

He could follow Mike Napoli's path by going to Texas and thumping the Angels from there, and that very well could happen. But now you're talking about replacing Josh Hamilton, and if Hamilton leaves, then Texas isn't the World Series threat it's been, and now maybe the attraction isn't as strong for Hunter. Even if it is home.

The guy wants to win a ring, desperately, and right now this is as much about positioning himself to win one as it is anything else.

That's one reason the Braves are a potential fit. Hunter, in full-on scouting mode, already has spoken with his buddy, outfielder Jason Heyward, about the Atlanta situation.

"I'm open," Hunter said. "If the National League has a team that's going to win, I'm all for it."

Little-known Torii Hunter fact: Growing up in Arkansas in the days before the explosion of baseball on television, you had the Cubs on WGN and the Braves on TBS. That's what he watched. And on the day the Minnesota Twins drafted him in 1993 ... Hunter was wearing a Braves shirt.

"All the media in Arkansas were cracking up about that," Hunter says.

Might he have unwittingly been foretelling something that day? We'll see.

"I won't take a lesser role," Hunter says. "I still have too much fire for that. I'm 37, but my body is not what you think it is.

"My 37 is totally different than someone else who's 37."

As he says, correctly, "I think I had my best years with the Angels."

And even on a team with Trout and Albert Pujols, Hunter clearly was the Angels' MVP down the stretch in September.

So he has that going for him as the phone rings. Production-wise, he's still trending in the right direction. He has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the game's best clubhouse leaders.

The deal he will sign will be multiyear, and his annual salary will be "fair."

"What's fair is fair," Hunter says. "Not more, or less. Just fair. That's what works for me right about this point."

With the Angels, it could have been different. He would have signed for less, right up until they insulted him with the one-year, $5 million offer.

Now, the phrase "fair-market value" is in play. So is the word, "contender." The Tigers, Rangers, Braves ... the list of those inquiring during recruiting season is long.

"Some competitive teams, man," Hunter says. "That's what I like. I'm pretty excited about getting there.

"Those teams want to win, and I know they're going to win. And I'm willing to listen."

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