Twins have 15-day window to negotiate with free agent Hunter

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter
filed for free agency on Monday, immediately becoming one of the
most prized players on the market.

The Twins have a 15-day window in which they can negotiate
exclusively with Hunter, but all signs point to him hitting the
open market Nov. 13.

The six-time Gold Glove winner had a career year at the plate, hitting
.287 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs.

Coming off such an impressive year at the plate, Hunter will
likely draw the interest of any number of teams in
search of a center fielder, a list that could include the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.

Although they can only talk to Hunter and not negotiate a deal, the Astros have reportedly already made contact with 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 are in a tough spot with Hunter, the heart and soul of
the clubhouse and one of the few players on the current roster with
legitimate home run power.

If Hunter leaves in free agency, the Twins would receive no
compensation for losing one of their biggest stars and a locker
room pillar who takes some of the attention away from young players
like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Keeping him, however, will no doubt cost a pretty penny. And
with Johan Santana set to become a free agent after next season and
Morneau sure to get another big raise in arbitration, the
small-market Twins have to decide who they can keep and who they
have to let go.

Starting pitcher Carlos Silva also filed for free agency on

Hunter has said all along that he would prefer to remain with
the Twins, the team that drafted him as an 18-year-old out of Pine
Bluff, Ark., in the first round of the 1993 draft. But he also
wants a five-year contract, and Minnesota so far has been unwilling
to offer that many years to the 32-year-old veteran.

Hunter balked at a three-year deal offered during the season and
has said that he is looking for a contract more in line with his
"market value."

One deal Hunter has pointed to on more than one occasion was the
contract Gary Matthews Jr. signed with the Angels before last
season. Matthews, a 33-year-old who does not have the defensive
prowess of Hunter, got five years and $50 million to play in

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.