Suzuki's deal sets a higher bar for Hunter

Torii Hunter says the Twins should make a bid even though his value appears to be skyrocketing.

In recent weeks, Twins center fielder Torii Hunter has watched Cleveland sign designated hitter Travis Hafner and the White Sox sign lefthander Mark Buehrle to contract extensions.

Then the whopper came Friday. Seattle center fielder and All-Star Game MVP Ichiro Suzuki signed a five-year deal worth $90 million that is set to keep him with the Mariners until he's 39.

It makes Hunter, who is batting .301 with 19 homers and 71 RBI, potentially the top free-agent center fielder on the offseason market. Hunter prefers to re-sign with the Twins, but the club has not negotiated with him since early in the season. And the longer the team waits, the more Hunter can think about what free agency will bring.

"That window of opportunity is closing up quick," Hunter said Friday before the Twins faced Oakland.

"All I can do is keep playing, putting up my numbers and hopefully we can win this division," Hunter said.

"Then we'll see what happens. You don't want to wait too late [to negotiate]."

There's little doubt that Hunter's free agent value shot upward because of Suzuki's deal. Suzuki led the majors with 128 hits going into Friday. He was batting .355 with five home runs and 39 RBI, and had stolen 23 bases.

And Suzuki, in his seventh season, is an icon in Seattle.

"The one thing we have made clear since spring training was that it was our goal to have Ichiro play his entire career in Seattle, retire as a Mariner and go into the Hall of Fame in our cap," Mariners General Manager Bill Bavasi said.

"While I don't believe this is Ichiro's final contract, I do think today's signing is a big step in assuring he will spend his entire career here in Seattle."

Hunter, who turns 32 on Wednesday, would like to spend his entire career with the Twins and play in the new ballpark that's set to open in 2010. He would welcome playing on natural turf after enduring years of pounding on AstroTurf and FieldTurf at the Metrodome.

Suzuki and Hunter both are Gold Glove-caliber outfielders, but Hunter, a favorite of many Twins fans, entered Friday leading all center fielders in home runs and RBI.

Hunter, who is making $12 million this year, admitted that Suzuki's deal affects whether he may want to remain with the Twins. "Yeah, it does, big time," Hunter said. "I'm not stupid. I'm human and everyone needs to know that. Business is business for them and business is business for me, too. But I still love this game and I still love to play it."

Hunter wouldn't say if he will accept less than what he could get as a free agent to stay with the Twins , but he didn't rule it out, either.

"You don't know if I want to give a discount," he said. "If you don't offer, then you will never know. If I go to the end of the season and you don't offer anything and assume that I would want so much money, then that's stupid."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters during the All-Star break that the team intends to try to keep Hunter but indicated that an offer wouldn't come until after the season.

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan declined to comment on contract negotiations.

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