MINNEAPOLIS -- The sign of the start of free agency was
literally hauled into Twins general manager Bill Smith's office on
Tuesday morning: a huge white board, stretching from floor to
ceiling with room for all the names soon to be on the open market.
That includes center fielder Torii Hunter, who is two weeks away
from a lucrative new contract befitting a two-time All-Star and
six-time Gold Glove winner.
Though they must wait for other teams to first make their
offers, the Twins are still stating their desire to re-sign Hunter -- as well as starting pitcher Carlos Silva -- despite the financial
"We would love to sign them and have them stay as Twins.
They've earned this right. There's nothing you can begrudge them
for pursuing," Smith said.
Hunter turned down a three-year, $45 million deal in August and
has since told the Twins he wouldn't negotiate until after gauging
his value from other teams. On Tuesday, while traveling to pick up
his sons from football practice in suburban Dallas, he offered a
fitting metaphor for his desire to participate in the process of
free agency for the first time.
"I ran all the way to the 1-yard line, and you expect me to
fumble right now?" Hunter said. "I'm just trying to figure out
what play to call."
He pondered the situation for a second.
"I think I'll hand it off to Adrian Peterson," Hunter said,
laughing. "That's a guarantee."
The 32-year-old Hunter is seeking at least a five-year contract.
Before the season ended, he tried to diminish concerns about doling
out so much guaranteed money for a player who will be in his late
30s when the deal ends.
"I feel like I can run better than some 22-year-old guys,"
Hunter said then. "Trust me. I'm going to be like this the rest of
my life. I've been like this since I was 17 years old. I'll be like
this when I'm 40."
Though they slumped to a 79-83 record and missed the postseason
for only the second time since 2001, the Twins have plenty of other
important players to pay, too, like ace left-hander Johan Santana -- who will enter the final year of his contract.
This is an obvious predicament for Smith, who likely will be
reluctant to designate such a significant percentage of the payroll
to one player -- as valuable as Hunter is.
Hunter said, however, that the Twins are still in the, uh, hunt.
"Yeah, just like everybody else," he said. "Everybody else
has a chance, too."
The Houston Astros have reportedly already shown interest in the center fielder.
"If you start looking at the center fielders on the market, Torii Hunter is one of the preeminent guys." Astros general manager Ed Wade said on Tuesday, according to the Fox television Web site in Houston. "He does a little bit of everything.
"The defense he brought to Minnesota all those years what he showed this year offensively is what he's capable of doing on a regular basis. So when you have that combination of offense and defense coming out of a player at a critical position on a club, then obviously he will find a lot of interest from a lot of clubs at this point in time."
The Twins emerged from their organizational meetings two weeks
ago with contingency plans for replacing Hunter, if he departs.
"We'll look inside, outside," Smith said. "We'll consider
trades. We'll consider free agents. We'll consider promotion from
within and see if we can come up with the best options."
The good news for the Twins is that they're expecting to gain at
least one All-Star-caliber player for next season -- without busting
Starting pitcher Francisco Liriano is nearly done with his
yearlong rehabilitation program following reconstructive elbow
surgery. He has three more bullpen sessions scheduled over the next
nine days, throwing up to 80 pitches by the end. Because he's had
no setbacks and resisted temptation to push too hard and too fast,
the Twins are "cautiously" counting on him for the start of
"We're really pleased with his effort and looking forward to
the future," Smith said.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this story.