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The Twins have a big decision to make within the next month regarding Torii Hunter. Picking up his $12 million option would seem out of the question to a team with the Twins means – even to Torii. “I hope it's with a long-term deal, (because) I can't see it with the option," Torii reportedly said to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark. "If they felt they had to go with the option, then I would be out of here July 31."
The reality is that neither option is very palatable to the Twins. Either they pay him $12 million to stay for one more year, or they pay him $2 million to leave as a free agent with no compensation beyond a possible draft pick. The third option – trade him for cheaper players or prospects before the end of July – isn’t going to be considered if the Twins are within shouting distance of the playoffs.
There’s one more option which Torii has mentioned a number of times – rip up the current contract and sign Hunter to a long-term deal. That’s a tricky proposition, and not just because it would need to happen over the next month, when it’s bound to be a distraction. The bigger problem is that it’s damn hard to figure out exactly what Hunter’s worth based on some of the other contracts that have been handed out lately. Given these deals, what would you pay Hunter?
I think most people would agree that Hunter slots in below Damon and above Cameron or Finley, but that leaves a range of salary between $7 million and $13 million per year. Would Hunter accept a four-year deal for $32 million plus the $2 million buyout? Would he be willing to do that when large market teams like the Angels or Dodgers might be waiting to offer him $44+ million? Would Terry Ryan be willing to tie up that much money when he has Lew Ford on the roster and Denard Span playing in AA-New Britain?
Hunter says there hasn't been a hint from the front office that they want to start negotiating a long term deal. Looking at the questions above, and with the possible range in salaries, it wouldn’t be too shocking if the Twins decided the chance of negotiating successfully in the next month was outweighed by the risk of it affecting Hunter’s performance. Or, possibly, Ryan has just delayed his decision until the all-star break so he give the Tigers or White Sox some more time to cool off.
But the clock is ticking. If the Twins find themselves on August first with Torii Hunter, without a long-term deal, and with no realistic chance of making the playoffs, Ryan will have made a mistake that a payroll-capped team like the Twins can’t afford. Literally.