'Hart of the Order'
By Sean Hartnett
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The Yankees and Tigers are coming off an ALCS where Detroit swept the punchless Bombers with ease in four games. While the ALCS was one-sided, the battle for one of the most desirable free agents is expected to be a lot tighter.
Both the Yankees and Tigers can desperately use the services of 37-year-old corner outfielder Torii Hunter. What makes Hunter attractive to both teams is their need for a right-handed power bat. The Tigers will allow ALCS MVP Delmon Young to sign elsewhere as they plan to use the DH spot for Victor Martinez, who is returning from knee surgery.
The Yankees and Tigers both suffer from an overflow of left-handed hitting outfielders. Nick Swisher's days in the Yankees' outfield are over. The jovial switch-hitter wrote his ticket out of the Bronx after yet another miserable postseason. His history of poor playoff performances, demand of a long-term contract and fading popularity among the Yankees' fan base means Swisher will not be calling 1 East 161st Street in the Bronx his address in 2013.
Yankees Need Hunter To Break Up A Lefty Dominant Lineup
Brian Cashman elected to pick up Curtis Granderson's $15 million option for 2013. Since Granderson and a healthier Brett Gardner will be returning to the Yankees' outfield, they'll need a right-handed bat to balance their outfield options and overall dependence on left-handed hitting. It became clear as the 2012 season went on that Andruw Jones wasn't capable of handling that job.
Same goes for Detroit, who are in equal need of acquiring a right-handed bat to fill one of their corner outfield spots. Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry and Brennan Boesch are all left-handed batters. Super prospect Nick Castellanos and ALCS hero Avisail Garcia are right-handed, but are unproven and in need of further development.
Are The Yankees Favorites To Land Hunter?
Hunter will be in high demand as he batted .313 with 16 home runs and 92 RBIs in 140 games with the Angels last season. His defense in the corner positions would be an immediate upgrade over Swisher's inconsistent routes in right field. Hunter would be an important player to use in place of Granderson or Gardner against left-handed pitching as he batted .340 versus LHPs in 2012.
He is an everyday player who posted similar numbers against right-handed and left-handed pitchers over the last three seasons. Hunter was .282 against right-handed pitchers over this stretch and .292 when matched-up against lefties.
The Yankees will likely be looking to offer Hunter a maximum of a one-year deal with a club option for 2014. While Hunter is still a superb athlete in his late 30's, he will turn 38 in July. It would be hard to imagine Cashman or any other major league GM offering a guaranteed two-year deal.
The Angels will have difficulty retaining Hunter as they will focus their budget on rebuilding their rotation and are still burdened by Vernon Wells' albatross contract. Wells is still on the books through 2014 at $21 million dollars per season.
Other candidates interested in Hunter are the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. The Rangers will be focused on discussions with Josh Hamilton, who has indicated he will allow the Rangers to make a counteroffer before signing with another team.
If Hamilton's price escalates beyond what they are willing to offer, they will target Hunter. A move to the Rangers would offer Hunter the chance to commute to The Ballpark In Arlington from his Prosper, Texas home.
While the Red Sox would love to have Hunter, they would ideally want to bring in a player who can provide competition at both outfield and first base. It would be unlikely for Hunter to consider the Red Sox -- who are seen as more of a rebuilding project than the Yankees, Tigers or Rangers. The Yankees and Tigers are far and away the two best candidates to land Hunter.
Swisher An Ideal Fit For The Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox's on-base percentage fell from an MLB-best .349 in 2011 to just .315 in 2012. They also shaved 38 home runs off their 2011 total. Swisher can fill both of these needs as he hit 24 home runs, drove in 93 RBIs and logged an OBP of .364 in 2012.
As mentioned earlier, Boston would love to bring in a player who can compete at first base and corner outfield. Swisher can capably handle both positions.
The Red Sox also need someone who can handle the demanding Boston media. Swisher is always willing to speak with reporters. That wasn't the case with Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez who were among players shipped to the laid-back baseball environment of Los Angeles as the Red Sox shed $264.6 million dollars in future payroll commitments.
Swisher's gung-ho nature will probably make his a favorite of Red Sox fans and he fits into the "Dirt Dog" mold "Red Sox Nation" requires.
Hunter Would Ease A-Rod's Burden
The Yankees need a right-handed hitter who can take some of the burden off Alex Rodriguez as the Yankees' main power source from the right side.
A-Rod's chronic hip problems appear to have sapped him of both 40 home run power and the ability to play over 140 games. Rodriguez became a line-drive hitter down the stretch and the entire world saw how flawed his batting mechanics became during the playoffs. He looked completely over-matched against right-handed pitchers and did not manage a hit against playoff RHPs.
Hunter would give the Yankees a legitimate everyday right-handed power threat who will provide insurance if A-Rod's power outage continues into 2013.
Rodriguez turn 38 in July. The Yankees will need the DH spot to rotate A-Rod and Derek Jeter to keep them fresh throughout the 2013 season. As much as they'd like to keep Raul Ibanez around, he hurts their lineup flexibility.
Should the Yankees sign Hunter, it would also damage their chances of retaining Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro still views himself as an everyday player and an outfield of Gardner-Granderson-Hunter would be difficult to break into.
Unless Cashman has a change of heart and deals Granderson and moves Gardner into center field -- it would be hard to imagine Ichiro returning to the Bronx in 2013. Hunter is the Yankees' number one target.
Are the Yankees favorites to land Hunter? Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.
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