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."