Twins pick up $12 million option on Hunter for '07

Updated: October 11, 2006, 10:43 AM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Torii Hunter will be back with the Minnesota Twins for at least one more year. Beyond that, it's tough to tell.

Center Field
Minnesota Twins

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2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
147 31 98 86 .336 .278

The Twins picked up their 2007 option on Hunter's contract Tuesday, and his $12 million salary will be the largest single-season sum in team history.

The five-time Gold Glove award winner wants to stay with Minnesota longer than that, but if his deal isn't extended by the spring, he sounded resigned to leaving as a free agent next year.

"If nothing gets done, then I'm going to enjoy my last season with the Twins and we're going to do it all. Win the World Series, the whole bit," Hunter said from his home near Dallas.

Hunter had said he would have preferred to have Minnesota buy out the final year of his contract for $2 million and negotiate a new deal, but his current contract called for the team to make a decision five days after the conclusion of the season -- which was too soon to work something out.

Now, general manager Terry Ryan and Hunter's agent, Larry Reynolds, have more time to talk.

"If not, then I understand. It's a business. I can't do anything about it. I'm actually happy. What's not to be happy about? I'm going to be back with the Minnesota Twins. And it's $12 million," Hunter said.

Ryan and Hunter had what each called a cordial conversation, but it came with no promises.

"There was no exchange of anything other than pleasantries between Torii and myself," Ryan said. "We're happy to have him, and he's happy to be here."

Hunter was hampered by a stress fracture in his left foot this summer, which cost him 15 games and kept him from running at full speed. Though he wasn't his usual highlight-hogging self in the field this season, he had a career year at the plate -- with 31 homers and 98 RBI. A leader in the clubhouse and a popular figure in the community, Hunter helped push the Twins to their fourth division title in five seasons.

They were swept by the Oakland A's in the first round of the playoffs, losing the second game of that series when Hunter took an ill-advised dive for a sinking line drive that turned into a two-run inside-the-park homer. Hunter blamed himself for the defeat, but his teammates and coaches were quick to defend him.

"He possesses everything you're looking for in a person in an organization," Ryan said.

Hunter's foot passed his end-of-the-year physical. But Ryan said he hadn't yet given "much thought" to negotiating a new deal with Hunter. He also didn't express concern about the risk of losing the center fielder if he's not locked up soon.

"I think that's for another day," Ryan said. "Regardless of what appears on the surface, things change, times change and situations change. If that's the case, then we've always been honorable. We do what players ask, for the most part, and if it's a distraction then we won't get into it. If ever something wants to be opened up by both parties, then we'll get into it."

A first-round draft pick by Minnesota in 1993 who has been a fixture in the lineup since 1999, Hunter didn't want to put his desires too high on the team's offseason financial planner.

Though this year's payroll of more than $63 million will rise, the Twins have potentially eight players eligible for salary arbitration -- including batting champ Joe Mauer, MVP candidate Justin Morneau and cleanup hitter Michael Cuddyer.

"They should be the first ones they worry about," Hunter said. "Those guys are going to be special."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press