The Twins reportedly need to decide on whether to pick up Torii Hunter's contract option for 2007 before the end of the week. Hunter's option isn't the only decision that needs to be made, and it might not even be the biggest, considering the impact of guaranteeing Carlos Silva $4.3 million and a rotation spot next year. But Hunter's is the most expensive contract option the Twins will have ever picked up, so it requires its share of consideration.
The debate has raged for most of the year. Two months ago, you were hard-pressed to find someone who thought the Twins would pick up the option. A week ago, you were hard-pressed to find someone who didn't. Ironically, that swing corresponded with a decrease in Torii's defense, the facet of the game for which Torii is best known. The .314 BA and 9 home runs he sported in September might have had something to do with that.
It's assumed now that the Twins will pick up Hunter's option, but the reasons given aren't always clear. Some say it's because he's earned it. Some say it's because not doing so would send the wrong message to the fans, or the team. And some think they Twins should because they only recently figured out the concept of "sunk cost" and had previously assumed it was a $12 million option ($2.5 M is guaranteed regardless).
The problem is that none of these are the question that really should be asked. That question is - would the team be better with Hunter in center field at $9.5 million, or with someone else in center field with a different amount of money. That's a harder question to ask, of course, becuase it requires some research. At GameDay, we're all about research (though not so much about html formatting, which is why you're going to need to scroll down a bit), so let's take a look at the other options, and you can decide for yourself what the answer is.
|Gary Matthews Jr.||Tex||32||620||19||79||10||0.313||0.371||0.495||0.866|
You'll notice that these are not young men. You'll also notice that above Torii, there aren't a lot of sure things.
David Dellucci is listed as a center fielder, but played a corner spot most of this year, and was traded away from the Rangers because he wasn't a true center fielder. He also has never hit left-handers, and really only played as a utility outfieder in Philly, though he had a very good 2005 in Texas. I suspect his defense isn't deemed solid enough for the Twins to be interested, but he would certainly cost less than Hunter - he made just $950,000 last year.
The most interesting free agent test will be that of Gary Matthews Jr. It's unusual for a breakthrough year to happen to a 31-year-old, but Matthews was the complete package, offenseivly and defensively. This will be his last, best chance at a payday, but he's also probably cheaper than Hunter. I wouldn't be shocked if he signs for $15M over 3 years. If he's legit, that's going to be a great buy for some team.
I'm including Mike Cameron on the list, but he likely won't be available, because the Padres have a $7M option ($0.5 M buyout). Cameron may be the most comparable player on this list for Hunter, and another playoff team is debating whether to pick up his option, which is $3M less. However, it sound like they are planning on picking up that option, so the market is more or less set.
You can take a look at the options below Hunter yourself. Several qualify as "speedsters", which would require some fancy stepping as the the Twins would need to move Castillo. The only one likely to cost more than $5M per year would be Juan Pierre.
There are more options here than I thought, and it shows that if the Twins decide not to pick up Hunter's option, it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to turn to Lew Ford or Jason Tyner or Denard Span. But they would need to risk losing Hunter before the free agent season starts, and then they're at the mercy of the market. Ultimately, their risk aversion likely means they'll still pick up the option.