November 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Tom Gage

Outfielder Torii Hunter would be a good fit for Detroit Tigers

Torii Hunter hit .313 with 16 home runs and 92 RBIs for the Los Angeles Angels last season. His RBI total was his highest since 2007. (Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Baseball's free-agent season appears to be Torii Hunter-bound for the Tigers — and picking up steam.

In two days, the Tigers/Torii signing situation has gone from warm to hot, from possible to what some reports are now calling probable — especially after the veteran outfielder reportedly met with team executives on Tuesday.

This is where it stands:

The Tigers are known to be very interested in Hunter, who despite being 37 is coming off one of his best, if not the best, season of his career.

He hit .313 with 16 home runs and 92 RBIs for the Los Angeles Angels but is now in the free agent market with no chance of returning to the Angels.

Hunter, who began in major-league career in 1997 with the Minnesota Twins and is a four-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner, had never hit .300 before the 2012 season and hadn't knocked in more than 90 runs since a career high of 107 RBIs in 2007.

He's a "young" 37, meaning he's not been slowed by a lot of injuries over the years, and would appear to be an ideal fit for the Tigers in several ways.

Here are a few of them:

1. Hunter could take over right field for the Tigers on a regular basis for the next two years — or for whatever will be the length of his contract. Two years plus an option appears to make sense.

2. He could bat second — which is the spot in which he hit .343 for the Angels in 356 at-bats last year.

3. He would be a positive clubhouse influence, especially if you think relief pitcher Octavio Dotel was right at the end of the season about the Tigers lacking leadership.

4. Plus, in search of his first World Series appearance, Hunter's will to win would fit right in with the Tigers' carry-over expectations of themselves in 2013.

Hunter said on Monday the process of signing is going to be "quick" and if his visit with the Tigers' brass on Tuesday is any indication of the speed of the process, that might be too slow a description.

You have a team in the Tigers needing a No. 2 hitter and a reliable corner outfielder. You have a player who can fill both needs, but also yearns for the postseason success that the Tigers could supply.

Plus you have the bottomless pockets of owner Mike Ilitch, who has never met a big-name player he didn't like.

"We've pushed the payroll, as you're aware of, many times in the last few years," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said after the World Series.

With raises for arbitration-eligible players eating up much of the money coming off the books with the departure of Jose Valverde and Delmon Young, it looks like the Tigers are ready to push the payroll again with the courtship of Hunter, whose average salary topped $18 million the last four years.

If the Tigers sign Hunter, though — and many knowledgeable observers believe they are the front-runners for him and that Detroit as a destination makes the most sense for him — what does that do to their hope of retaining starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who will command a larger and longer contract than Hunter?

Sanchez is already drawing a lot of attention on the free-agent market, which means he could end up getting an even bigger contract than initially expected.

One report emanating from last week's general manager meetings in Indian Wells, Calif., had him looking for a six-year, $90 million deal.

But with Sanchez working up from his base salary of $8 million in 2012, and pitching well down a high-profile stretch that included the postseason, the Tigers knew the dollar amount for the right-hander might soar.

What remains to be seen is that if they sign Hunter, can they still afford Sanchez? Is it one or the other, or will Ilitch simply keep his checkbook open?

Twitter: @Tom_Gage

Email: tom.gage@detnews.com