When Torii Hunter tracks a fly ball, there's a level of certainty. No such certainty exists as the Twins center fielder enters free agency.
BRIAN PETERSON ¥ firstname.lastname@example.orgMinneapolis, MN - 9/23/2007Twins - White SoxTwins centerfielder Torii Hunter tips his hat to the cheering fans as he leaves the field in the 9th inning. This could be Hunters last home game as a Minnesota Twin.
It was only 15 years ago, but for the Twins it was a much simpler time.
They were trying to keep a free-agent center fielder -- a 32-year-old, with six Gold Gloves -- just like Torii Hunter now.
His name was Kirby Puckett, and he danced the free-agent dance, visiting the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox.
But then Kirby and Tonya Puckett had dinner at Carl and Eloise Pohlad's house. And then, on Dec. 4, 1994, Christmas came early.
The Twins signed Puckett to a five-year, $30 million contract, the second-richest in baseball behind Cal Ripken's five-year, $32.5 million deal.
Andy MacPhail, then the Twins general manager, stayed in Minnesota for the big news conference while his top lieutenants -- Terry Ryan, Bill Smith and Larry Corrigan -- went to the winter meetings in Louisville, Ky.
Upon arriving, Ryan said, "Now that Kirby's back, we don't have to spend time looking for a Gold Glove center fielder who will hit .350."
If only it were that easy now.
The free-agent market has changed drastically. Soon, Hunter could be headed elsewhere, with significantly more cash.
The current standoff
Hunter rejected a three-year, $45 million offer from the Twins in August, and the sides haven't spoken much since.
Minnesota has exclusive negotiating rights until Nov. 13, when other teams can begin making formal offers, but Hunter said he would like to see what's out there before resuming talks with the Twins.
"It's not necessarily goodbye to the Twins because I filed for free agency," Hunter said. "I'm still watching to see what they do."
Hunter said this goes way beyond his own contract. Because of their payroll restrictions, he's concerned about the Twins' ability to keep him while still fielding enough talent around him to win a World Series.
He wants at least a five-year deal. Industry insiders think his contract could reach $90 million.
Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams plans to meet with Hunter in person. The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are among the other expected suitors, and news of more will probably surface soon, with the GM meetings starting Monday in Orlando.
"It's Torii's right to be a free agent," said Bert Blyleven, a Twins TV analyst. "He's worked his tail off to get there. And the thing about Torii is he plays hurt. He's just a gamer, as Puck was.
"The things [Hunter] does off the field, you can't really put a monetary value on that, with his attitude and what he means to the guys in the clubhouse."
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