Hunter became the new face earlier this decade, though he now shares that mantle with Johan Santana, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
How big of a public relations hit would the Twins take if they lost Hunter? That depends partly on their other moves, said Dave Mona, a former Twins beat writer for the Minneapolis Tribune and the chairman of Weber Shandwick, the region's largest PR firm.
Another major question facing the Twins is whether they will trade Santana, a free agent after 2008.
"If they got nobody in return for Santana and lost Hunter, I think people would say, 'I don't get this. They're going into the new ballpark [in 2010]. They've got the additional revenue coming. These two moves seem inconsistent with where they're doing.' "
Mona, a longtime WCCO-AM radio host, said with no disrespect to Hunter that the impact of losing him wouldn't be the same as losing Puckett.
"I think there's an appreciation for Torii Hunter, but people in Minnesota are incredibly practical," Mona said. "It's part of that Scandinavian heritage. They're going to say, 'That's a lot of money [to keep Hunter].'
"There will come a point where they'll understand, but only if the Twins make additional moves."
Smith, who was an assistant under MacPhail and then Ryan before becoming GM last month, said the new ballpark's approval hasn't added pressure to keep Hunter.
"I think our No. 1 goal is to keep this team competitive in the short term and in the long term," he said. "Sometimes you have to compromise one to get the other."
While continuing to praise Hunter, Smith picked his words carefully this past week.
"He's been a tremendous part of this organization," Smith said. "I don't want to speak in the past tense because I still hope he stays in this organization."
Moments later, Smith added: "He was a big part of the renaissance of this franchise, and I will always respect him for that."
Joe Christensen email@example.com